Theatre Professor Tom Kremer, center, and seniors Lindsay Ryan and Jake Wentlent star in "Mauritius," which opens Friday, Oct. 19, at the AC-Chamber Hall.
Photo by Jonathan Cohen
Theatre Department puts its stamp on suspenseTweet
Carol Hanscom admits that the words “thriller” and “stamps” were rarely connected before Theresa Rebeck wrote the play “Mauritius.”
“I don’t think those words had been strung together before,” Hanscom said. “I refer to it as ‘Much Ado About Philatelists!’”
Directed by Hanscom, “Mauritius” refers to a rare stamp collection worth millions of dollars. The collection is in the possession of two sisters who face three con men, each determined to make the collection their own.
The suspense-thriller will make its Binghamton University debut at 8 p.m. Friday, Oct. 19, 20, 26 and 27 and 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 28, in the AC-Chamber Hall. Tickets are $14, general admission; $12, faculty/staff/seniors; and $8, students ($5 for students on opening night). Call 777-ARTS or go to http://anderson.edu to purchase tickets.
Rebeck, a playwright and television writer who recently created the NBC series “Smash,” was suffering from writer’s block when she learned about a stamp collection that would soon be for sale, Hanscom said.
“She was fascinated about how passionate people can be about little slips of paper with stick-um on the back,” Hanscom said.
“Mauritius” opened on Broadway in 2007 and starred F. Murray Abraham, Bobby Cannavale and Dylan Baker as the con men.
Hanscom, an adjunct lecturer in the Theatre Department, was intrigued by the play even when it was just starting its short Broadway run.
“It has great roles,” she said. “It is a real ensemble piece. Not one member of the cast can do what they do without the others supporting them. That was appealing to me.”
But “Mauritius” was not a well-known production to the Binghamton University students starring in the show: senior Lindsay Ryan (Jackie), graduate student Kaitlyn Brown (Mary) and senior Jake Wentlent (con man Dennis).
“Before I read the play, I thought: ‘Am I really going to audition for a play about people collecting and fighting over stamps?’ Ryan said. “But once I read it, I was fascinated by the characters. The characters make this story so great because they are from different worlds and they go after what they want — fearlessly and ferociously.”
“I was excited about a quarter of the way through (reading it),” Wentlent said. “It was clear that while the story does revolve around stamps, it’s really a forum for the world they live in because of how well the relationships are developed. I bought into it.”
Brown was intrigued by the family dynamic of the story.
“It shows how a death in the family really brings out the true colors of these people,” she said. “There is an uglier side.”
A second con man, Sterling, (the third double-dealer, Phillip, is portrayed by graduate student Steve Tarnow) is played by someone the cast members jokingly referred to as “a super-duper senior”: Theatre Professor Tom Kremer.
Hanscom was researching “Mauritius” over the summer and jokingly said that Kremer — her husband and colleague — should play the psychopathic Sterling.
“We started to think about it more seriously. Sterling is such a scary character. I live with Tom and know he can be scary!” she said with a laugh. “It made more and more sense the more we talked about it.”
“Sterling is fascinating,” Kremer said. “He is a guy so passionate about stamps that they might as well be his mistress or wife or lover.”
More faculty members are taking roles in Theatre Department productions, said Kremer, who finds it to be “a good teaching device” for both students and faculty.
“Most of the time, we work with the students outside of the process,” he said. “It’s interesting to be on the inside of the process — teaching and learning about what they go through. It makes the faculty put their money where their mouth is!”
Producing a suspense thriller that the audience may not be familiar with can be difficult, Kremer said. The key, he said, is to “frame pieces of the play” for the crowd.
“You have to set up and frame the necessary information so that you mislead the audience to come to a possible conclusion,” he said. “You also have to lay enough groundwork so that when you come to the conclusion, it’s not only surprising, but believable.”
The cast members said they have learned a great deal from working with Hanscom and Kremer.
“Working with both Tom and Carol has been amazing,” Ryan said. “Tom is always trying to do something different. That gives Carol the opportunity to see what works. That’s what rehearsal is for. You can’t do the same thing every time.
“It’s cool to have two professors who are not only helping us in the process, but who know each other so well and bring in different ideas. The chemistry is already there.”
It is a chemistry that also has developed among the five-member cast, which Hanscom praised as “fun to work with” and “becoming more fearless as time goes on.”
“They are all smart, engaging and charming,” she said. “That’s important to the story. (The cast) makes this story work.”