Theater Review: Artists’ Ensemble stages another fine production

By Edith McCauley
Theater Critic
As Jackie, Casiena Raether, states, “Mauritius, a small island in the Indian Ocean, became one of the first countries to publish stamps.” Their original value, only a few cents, has increased to millions, and it is that value that centers the action of Artists’ Ensemble’s Mauritius.

Jackie and her half-sister, Mary, played by Betsie Swartz, are reunited after many years on the death of their mother. It is a collection of stamps that creates much of the incredibly bad behavior that dominates the play. They both insist that the stamps belong to them and reach a point where they physically confront one another.

Jackie goes to a stamp dealer on the recommendation of a seller of comic books. Phil, Jamie Button, refuses to even look at her collection, but Dennis, Mickey Stegall, is instantly intrigued and soon discovers the value of many of the stamps. He shares his knowledge with Sterling, Mark Ulrich, a questionable character whose desire to acquire almost anything of value dominates his life.

After seeing the production, Mamet’s American Buffalo came to mind. Based on three characters intent on acquiring an elderly gentleman’s valuable coin, their violent behavior and “adults only” language seems echoed in Mauritius.

If obscenity and physical interaction offend you, this may not be the play for you, but it is so well done, it should not be missed. Richard Raether directs, and his many years of experience in teaching stage conflict come to the fore. After the play, I asked if any of the cast sustained injuries, including his daughter Casiena, who at one point was literally being choked to death.

His expertise is evident, and his comment, so appropriate, says it so well, “… each character, however flawed, has a point of view… they’ve all got their reasons for what they do. How does one navigate through the minefield of life without falling victim to bad behavior?”

Artists’ Ensemble is a resident Equity professional theater, and the actors that comprise many of their casts are from Chicago. Stegall is a recent graduate from Columbia College, and Mark Ulrich performs regularly in many Chicago theaters.

Jan Bacino is a busy lady, and her costumes in Mauritius, her 11th AE production, are up to her high standards. The technical staff is equally talented. The play runs through April 3, 2011, with shows playing Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Tickets may be acquired by calling (815) 904-2277. The company has arranged with Rockford College to continue mounting their shows at that site. The final show of this season, Rounding Third, opens May 13 and plays through May 29.

From the March 23-29, 2011 issue

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