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Stamp thriller pushes the envelope in 'Mauritius'

In the world of philately - stamp collecting to us amateurs - flaws mean riches. It works in drama, too. Nothing holds our attention so much as a flawed character.

In Theresa Rebeck's "Mauritius," Jackie's flaws are so apparent that a virtual stranger describes her as "damaged." But the flaws that drive the action in this crackling noir thriller are a pair of misprinted stamps from the Indian Ocean island of Mauritius.

These uncanceled 1- and 2-cent stamps are part of a collection bequeathed by Jackie's mother. Trouble is, the collection may not have been hers to bequeath. Jackie's half-sister, Mary, estranged from their mother, claims the stamps are hers alone in that they belonged to her paternal grandfather, Jackie's step-grandparent and no blood relation.

Nevertheless, Jackie takes the collection to a philatelist for appraisal. But he's too grumpy even to look at them. Dennis, a stamp enthusiast hanging out in the shop, takes the trouble to peruse them - probably because he'd like to peruse Jackie herself.

As played by Eric Clavell, Dennis is a vaguely shady sort whose eyes widen when he flips to the page where the Mauritius stamps are mounted. Keeping his cool, he says little and returns the book to Jackie and surreptitiously follows her home. Dropping in on the sisters later, Dennis arranges a meeting with a wealthy collector he's already apprised of the situation.

Sterling, the aptly named gangster-ish collector played by Phil Eberhardt with barely restrained ruthlessness, is prepared to turn over a suitcase stuffed with cash. The philatelist (a devious Christopher Linn) will authenticate them for a fee and, presumably, Jackie will be a wealthy young woman - assuming she can keep her sister (Anna Hemphill) one step behind.

Joanna Howard as Jackie is the rare gem who elevates "Mauritius" from fusty stamp-collecting thriller to Mamet-esque psychological striptease. Howard bundles her character's untold conflictions into combustible self-revelation. Director Bob Kaplan keeps the disparate, occasionally improbable comic threads moving inexorably on his and James Ewing's claustrophobic, pack-rat set.

You can stamp this "Mauritius" delivered.

WHAT Long Island premiere of "Mauritius"

WHEN | WHERE 8 p.m. tomorrow through Saturday, 2:30 p.m. Sunday, presented by the Hampton Theatre Company at the Quogue Community Theatre, 126 Jessup Ave., through Jan. 31.

INFO $25, $23 seniors, $10 students;, 631-653-8955

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