In last Friday’s 7 section, I promised you an extended interview on the Beehive with director Charles Erven about the Fresno City College production of “Mauritius.” Consider this Part 1 of 2 of Better Late Than Never. (I’m also posting a full interview with director Brad Myers talking about “Wonder of the World,” which I also promised in the 7 section.) Here’s the post:
You might not think of stamp collecting as a way to anchor a compelling play about human nature, but that’s what Theresa Rebeck does in her acclaimed “Mauritius.” In Friday’s 7 section, I talk with director Charles Erven about the new production opening Friday at Fresno City College. Here’s the extended version of the interview:
Question: What’s the play about?
Answer: Two estranged sisters fight for possession of a valuable stamp collection left by their deceased mother. When one of the sisters takes the stamp collection to have them appraised the sisters find themselves thrust into a world of high stakes collecting and dangerous characters. The play is called “Mauritius” because the two most valuable stamps in the world come from the Island of Mauritius and are worth millions of dollars.
How much did you know about stamp collecting before tackling this directing project? Was anyone in your cast a stamp collector?
The only thing I knew about stamps was where to place one on an envelope. I certainly knew nothing about stamp collecting before delving into this script but I find the obsession associated with it pretty fascinating. It is akin to art collectors who pay large sums of money for art work. At that level, it is not about the art but about possession and commerce.
Have you ever done a Theresa Rebeck play before? She’s been a hot commodity for a while, and one of her current projects is TV’s “Smash.” Why do you think she hit it big?
I’ve read a number of her plays and always find them insightful and highly entertaining. She is currently one of the most produced playwrights in the world. Recently she had two plays running simultaneously on Broadway, a feat equaled by few other playwrights in history (Neil Simon and Shakespeare being two others). She writes funny and dynamic characters and her dialogue leaps off the page. She also has a knack for creating wonderfully shaped scenes that audiences and producers alike respond to. She wrote for various TV shows over the years, most notably “Law and Orde,r” and more recently, “Smash,” which has garnered very positive reviews.
Why did you pick this particular Theresa Rebeck play as opposed to others?
There were a number of Rebeck plays to choose from because she is one of the most prolific writers working. Mauritius was a play that had been floating around the department for a couple of years as a possible production and this just seemed like the year to do it. The play is a bit of a thriller and we really haven’t done anything like a thriller in quite a few years. We wanted to do a show that was challenging and entertaining and we also felt we had the right mix of students to pull it off. I’m sure we’ll produce another Rebeck play in the future because it has been such a joy to do this one.
Siblings fighting after a parent dies is an all too common occurrence. What do you think “Mauritius” says about human nature?
The idea of paying big bucks to possess something as ephemeral as a stamp opens an interesting window into human behavior. In many ways the play is about how people behave when money is involved (And almost always they behave badly). While the story of “Mauritius” revolves around stamp collecting, the themes of greed and betrayal are front and center.
What is your biggest challenge as a director in this production?
There were a number of challenges to the production and fortunately all of them were creative challenges. Finding the right production concept was the biggest creative challenge. Since the play is suggestive of Film Noir and yet is very contemporary we searched for ways to infuse that style into every aspect of the production. The color palate for costumes tend more toward the darker shades and the selection of music is clearly Film Noir. Moments in staging and characterizations are directly out of a Film Noir movie and, of course, the lighting design is straight up Film Noir. The challenge was that we needed to be selective in applying these style elements of Film Noir otherwise we would overwhelm the production. I think we hit it exactly right. I simply love looking at this production.
Tell us a little about your leading cast members. How many of them are making their FCC debuts?
As is often the case we have students who have been in FCC productions before and a number who are, indeed, making debuts. Mohammed Shehata, who plays Dennis, a charming con man, is new to the FCC stage. He was in a number of shows while attending Clovis West and swept the high school drama festival acting awards last year at Fresno City College. Another newbie to the FCC stage, but also someone who brings a wealth of high school and community theatre experience with her is Marikah Christine Leal, who is the understudy for the character of Jackie. We’re fortunate to have them both at FCC. The rest of cast are veterans of FCC theatre and are amazing in what they bring to the production. Bridget Mander-Martin has been in a number of plays at FCC, as has Josh Hansen. The other two cast members, Olivia Stemler and Kerry Cavin, were seen recently in “Almost, Maine.” They all immediately connected to the style of the play and created fully fleshed out and interesting characters.
Anything else you’d like to say?
Don’t let the funny sounding title deter you from seeing the play. It is very accessible and very entertaining. I should also add that the show might be an equivalent to an R rated movie because of some of adult language and themes.