Sarajane Alverson is quite good as the young woman in dire financial straits after the death of her mother, and trying to cash in on a collection of stamps that may not actually belong to her. The actress finds the misery in her situation, as well as the comedy and strength. And as the ruthless stamp-collecting millionaire, Matt Hanify is excellent in that one riveting scene near the end, brandishing his fists, as well as a briefcase full of money. But, otherwise, like all the other men on stage, he seems to lack any noticeable degree of nuance or variety. And that's very surprising, because director Sean Ruprecht-Belt is a highly experienced theater-hand, with decades of fine shows behind him (and, one hopes, ahead of him, too).
The same can also be said of Charles Heuvelman, as a taciturn stamp-shop owner: he's a highly experienced actor, but utterly lacking in nuance here. His best moment comes when he changes gears briefly, as the character explains his bitterness in dealing with the untutored populace coming into his collectors' office. But perhaps the script itself just won't give us any clue as to the reality of his, or any of the ancillary characters. And that's primarily the fault of author Rebeck, who drags out one dull, predictable plot development after another, and page after page of half-baked dialog.
Of course, secondary characters can always play internal "mind games" to add texture to what they're supposed to be doing up there on stage. This did not seem to occur here, at least not on opening night. (One of the funniest examples of "added texture" that I ever heard came from an actor playing Tubal, Shylock's friend, in a local production of The Merchant of Venice in 1999: "I'll just pretend that I'm tying my shoe, while my foot is up my ass," he suggested, to a director fishing around for something more interesting for his scene with the vengeful money-lender.)
One can't help but like Allison Hoppe as Ms. Alverson's half-sister, but her ultra perky figure and inescapably comical voice undermine nearly all of the tension of her scenes. With the benefit of hindsight, I can see that she should have worn clothes that didn't flatter her supermodel form so much, or lowered her voice an octave to disguise her aural resemblance to Imogene Coca. And yet, the scene where she pleads tearfully for the rare stamp album at the center of (alleged) events is quite impressive, as her nose and cheeks turn visibly red in her distress. Congratulations to her for stepping out of her comfort zone, which one presumes is light comedy.
Stephen Peirick is fine as the slightly shady intermediary in the stamp deal, but the whole show is played so two-dimensionally that it comes off as third-rate Mamet (and David Mamet, in my reckoning, is not all that terrific to begin with). Should director Ruprecht-Belt have let the show run another 30 minutes beyond its two-hour span, to allow for some contrived business that might suggest more plausible characters and relationships? Or (in the interest of time) could any added psychological color in this un-capering caper have been boiled down to uneasy shifts of dynamics, through the usual rehearsal process? Was that ever even an option?
Through April 25, 2010 at the Union Avenue Christian Church, one block north of Delmar. For more information call (314) 367-0025 or visit them on-line at www.westendplayers.org.