On Oct. 19, the Binghamton University theater department commences the Mainstage production season with “Mauritius.”
“Mauritius,” a play written by Theresa Rebeck, is named after the Mauritius Post Office stamps; only 500 were printed. The only known cover bearing the two Mauritius Post Office stamps was sold at the 1993 Feldman auction for $3,829,500, the highest price ever paid for a single philatelic item. The play begins with two half-sisters discovering a rare stamp collection after their mother’s death. Audiences may be wondering how a play that’s premise is stamp collecting could possibly be a suspense thriller.
Lindsay Ryan, a senior majoring in sociology, who plays one of the sisters, Jackie, explained that stamp collecting has a shady side.
“Everyone collects something, this is adults doing that and being passionate about collecting,” Ryan said. “It’s a story about going after what you want and not letting anyone stop you, and when these five people do just that, that’s where conflicts happens. No one takes others’ wants into consideration, and things happen because of it. You get to see what people do when they’re not following social rules, nor taking the nice side of the road.”
Director and professor Carol Hanscom chose this play for the first Mainstage production of the year because it answered some of the department’s problems with season scheduling, as a smaller cast was needed to balance the enormous number of actors who were cast for the Mainstage musical, “Hairspray.”
“I read about ‘Mauritius’ when it opened on Broadway in 2007, and I was intrigued by it,” Hanscom said. “I had ordered a copy and started using it in classes for scene work. I brought it before the committee, and they thought it answered the requirements of the department. Though the play has a terrible title, if we get word out, people will see that it is really fun, suspenseful, and even funny at times.”
In recent years, the theater department has incorporated professors as actors into the main stage production to provide a whole new level of learning for both the students and professors. In “Mauritius,” professor Thomas Kremer, director of production programs and acting and directing for the theater department, plays Sterling, one of the seedy collectors who tries to claim the sisters’ rare stamp for his own.
“We’ve learned that it’s another way of teaching,” Kremer said. “It’s interesting to be inside the process and trying to teach from that side, because this is a time for us to learn what the students go through. Everyone in the cast is talented and fun to work with. I don’t in any way, shape, or form feel like I’m in a student production; we’re on an even heel.”
Steve Tarnow, a graduate student studying theater who plays Philip, is using the production as his graduate thesis. He wanted to audition for this play after reading it and realizing it is not about polite people sitting in a parlor looking at stamps.
“I did a complete one-eighty after reading ‘Mauritius,’” Tarnow said. “Everything I didn’t expect to be in there, was. There’s conflict, grittiness, greed, desire and even hints of love, spoiler alert.”
Tarnow passionately commented on how he found himself having so many opinions left and right from just reading it. He really wanted the opportunity to be a part of that kind of turmoil and open-faced, close-fisted drama.
“Every single moment is conflict,” Tarnow said. “There almost is the potential for violence all the way through the play, and some places we actually do get violent.”
Ryan thinks the audience will be able to relate to her character’s relationship with graduate student Kaitlyn Brown’s character, Mary, because they play sisters who must handle a death in the family.
“When belongings of the deceased are being argued over, you see sides of people you would never have seen as they argue over who the deceased loved the most, who was there for the deceased when they were alive and who wasn’t,” Ryan said. “There’s hidden resentments that come out, you really see that, which people will relate to and have a fear of.”
“It touches on the idea that even when people take active steps to not be a family, death brings people back into that family situation,” Tarnow said in agreement with Ryan. “How do you deal with that? How do you make it work? Is there a family dynamic to come back to? How do you get there? This play touches on all of that.”
Tickets for “Mauritius” can be purchased at the box office in the Anderson Center, by calling the Anderson Center Box Office at (777) ARTS-2787 or by visiting www.anderson.binghamton.edu. Tickets are $8 for students, $12 for faculty, staff, and seniors and $14 for general admission. Student admission is $5 with a student ID at the box office in the Anderson Center for the opening night performance, Oct. 19 at 8. Performances continue on Oct. 20, 26 and 27 at 8 p.m. with an additional matinee at 2 p.m. on Oct. 28.