It’s a mere flyspeck in the middle of the Indian Ocean, but the tiny island nation of Mauritius is a big deal in the world of stamp collecting. Two postage stamps issued in 1847 by what was then a British colony are considered “the crown jewels of philately” by stamp collectors around the world. Measuring just 1.5 square inches each, the one-penny and two-pence stamps bearing the profile of Queen Victoria have sold for millions of dollars. There are fewer than 30 known to be in existence, all owned by wealthy private collectors or museums.
In the stage play, “Mauritius,” opening tonight at the Mid-City Theatre, a pair of the valuable stamps falls into the hands of two half-sisters, along with another rarity, the 24-cent, upside-down “Flying Jenny” U.S. airmail stamp from 1918.
What the two young women do or don’t do with their windfall under intense pressure from a trio of avaricious collectors propels the play.
Written by Theresa Rebeck and performed briefly on Broadway in 2007, the local premiere of “Mauritius” is directed by Harold Gervais with a cast of five from his Second Star Performance Collective.
The show will run for three weekends through Oct. 12 at Mid-City Theatre.
Although the action in the two-act play centers around the tug of war over rare stamps, Gervais was quick to note that there is more going on.
“The stamps are what Alfred Hitchcock would have called the ‘MacGuffin’ of the plot,” Gervais said. “A ‘MacGuffin’ is whatever plot device you have ... that allows the characters’ motives to become clear.”
In this slowly unfolding drama, the two half-sisters, Jackie (Leslie Boles) and Mary (Andrea Carlin), inherit the collection of rare stamps from their recently deceased mother. When they learn the value of the stamps from Mauritius, a tussle ensues.
Jackie wants to sell them, take the money and start enjoying life. Mary, the sentimental half of the duo, wants to hang onto them as a way of honoring her mother’s legacy.
In the meantime, however, word has gotten out. Three rare stamp collectors (played by Marc Belloni, Joe Siebert and James Howard Wright) descend on the sisters, badgering them with incentives that are actually closer to demands — and even threats.
For at least one of the male characters, the stamps “are like the ‘Holy Grail.’ He absolutely has to possess them,” Gervais said. But “each of these three men has his own agenda.”
Gervais said “Mauritius” was brought to his attention by Boles, who had acted in several other productions he directed.
Boles, a Lancaster, Pa., native who moved to New Orleans two years ago, had effusive praise for Gervais, calling him “a very generous and flexible director. The exuberance he brings to each project is just incredible.”
Discussing her character in the production, Boles said, “Jackie is the polar opposite of Mary. Mary is very calm, collected and reserved. Jackie is explosive, aggressive and very angry. To her, the stamps represent freedom and escape. She wants to sell them to the highest bidder and Mary is standing in her way.
“They’re trying to connect, but they just don’t understand each other.”
WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday through Oct. 12
WHERE: Mid-City Theatre, 3540 Toulouse St., New Orleans.
INFO: (504) 488-1460 or www.midcitytheatre.com.