Estranged sisters Jackie and Mary have different ideas on what to do with their inheritance of a valuable stamp known as Mauritius in the 2007 broadway show “Mauritius.” The play opens Sept. 30 at the San Juan Community Theatre, and runs through Oct. 16.
“‘Mauritius’ is a thriller,” Nathan Kessler-Jeffrey, the playy’s director and the San Juan Community Theatre’s Executive and Artistic Director said, warning that the show contains adult language and simulated violence. “Are there comic moments? Absolutely—you need comedy in a thriller to lighten the tension. It gives us audience members a chance to breathe before moving on to the next exciting moment.”
Kessler-Jeffrey added that he loves the way the story keeps the audience on the edge of their seat until the very end.
“There are twists, turns, revelations…it’s so fun,” he said.
He chose to direct the play after watching it at the Seattle Public Theatre a decade ago. “It was an incredible production,” Kessler-Jeffrey said, “with tight dialogue intense dramatic action with characters that are both flawed and fascinating.”
Subtext is key in “Mauritius” Kessler-Jeffrey added. What happens between the characters isn’t always written in the lines but in non-verbal communication. “I honestly think it’s a great show to see twice since you’ll pick up things the second time through you didn’t pick up the first time,” he said.
“Mauritius” was the first Broadway play for Theresa Rebeck. It ran for two months at the Biltmore Theatre. The original cast included F. Murray Abraham and Allison Pill. Rebeck has written several plays since that time, and wrote the screenplay for the TV series “SMASH” and most recently the 2022 Netflix spy thriller “The 355.” Kessler-Jeffrey has followed her work, saying that he did a deep dive into her work a few years ago, reading just about everything she’d ever written for the stage. Kessler-Jeffrey admitted he prefers her plays to her screenwriting. “Theresa Rebeck is a phenomenal playwright, and one of the best authors of ten-minute plays I’ve ever read. Her dialogue is fantastic, but more importantly, she has a tremendous focus on dramatic action,” he said. “Every character is fighting for something at every moment of every play.”
The cast consists of five actors; Eric Concord, who plays Sterling Carrie Jewett, as the sister Mary, Adam Parrott, as Dennis, Anne Marie Ryan as the sister Jackie, and Mason Turnage as Phil. There are also four understudies who are prepared to go onstage in the event of an emergency. The understudies include Becky Armstrong, Courtney Kessler-Jeffrey, Justin Platts, and Jacques van Rooyen. “The understudies also have their own dedicated performance on Oct. 13,” Kessler-Jeffrey said.
For Kessler-Jeffer, pulling the play together has been a lot of work and a lot of fun. Choreographing and rehearsing fight scenes adds extra layers. “Stage violence that is both realistic and safe is always a challenge, and one that I’ve enjoyed working on for years,” he said.
Many can relate to the theme of inheritance disputes. While it doesn’t typically become violent, family conflict over inheritance is common enough it has been an undercurrent throughout art. “[There are] three or four [plays] that I can think of right off the bat,” Kessler-Jeffrey said, adding that one reason for the conflict may be tied to the emotion of losing a loved one. “I imagine there are several things at work. First, everyone tends to be emotional during the time period that the estate is being transferred. Often, they’ve just had a loved one pass. Second, many families don’t discuss the transition, hoping to avoid thinking about death.” That silence can lead to unspoken expectations that are upset when confronted with the realities. An estate may be much larger or smaller than anticipated the sentimental and emotional weight tied to many of the assets of an estate—jewelry, homes, furniture, artwork, or, in the case of “Mauritius,” stamp collections.
Kessler-Jeffrey is a little familiar with the hobby, saying he commemorative first-day covers for many stamps in high school during the 1990s.
“My grandfather also left me a stamp collection from all over the world, though there was nothing of significant monetary value,” he said, adding that the prop use in “Mauritius” for the stamp collection is actually a reproduction of his grandfather’s stamp book. “They did an incredible job recreating the look,” said Kessler-Jeffrey. “[Through the play there] are secrets and mysteries and surprises…this is my favorite kind of experience in a theatre and I hope has a great time.”