American playwright Theresa Rebeck was once asked to explain what her plays, at their heart, were really all about. Rebeck, author of Hollywood sex-satire The Scene and the post 9-11 surrealist dinner-party farce Omnium Gatherum, replied that her plays were mainly about "betrayal and treason and poor behavior—a lot of poor behavior."
Poor behavior, of course, is at the heart of some of the theater world's greatest masterpieces. From Tennessee Williams' volcanic Streetcar Named Desire (running through Sept. 22 at the Raven Theater in Healdsburg) to the cranky and resentful title character in Alfred Uhry's beloved Driving Miss Daisy (through Oct. 6 at Pegasus Theater in Rio Nido), playwrights have always produced the juiciest drama from the very worst actions of their fellow human beings.
Sometimes, as in the Imaginists' upcoming bilingual fantasy Real (Oct. 3–19), adapted liberally from Carlo Collodi's Pinnochio, it is the bad behavior of a society gone wrong that takes the focus, with one central character trying to do the right thing in the face of others' poor behavior. In a sense, that's the central dilemma in Richard O'Brien's Rocky Horror Picture Show (Sept. 20–Oct. 13 at Sixth Street Playhouse), with straight-laced Brad and Janet tempted by the dark side in the castle of the cross-dressing, sexually omnivorous Dr. Frankenfurter. In the latter example, of course, the point is that Brad and Janet might benefit from a little taste of badness, while everyone knows that in the original Pinnochio, tasting the forbidden fruits of badness only gets you turned into a donkey.
Which brings us back to Theresa Rebeck, whose 2007 Tony-nominated comedy Mauritius opens next week at Main Stage West in Sebastopol. Named for an extremely rare postage stamp, the 1847 Blue Mauritius stamp, the play pits a pair of half-sisters (Ilana Niernberger and Nancy Prebilich) against one another, each of them claiming ownership of a stamp collection left to them by their recently deceased mother. The sisters, in turn, are pitted against a trio of shady stamp-collectors (John Craven, Peter Downey and Eric Thompson), who work the angles, Mamet-style, to outplay, outwit and outlast the others in their quest to acquire the collection.
Directed by Beth Craven, who demonstrated a knack for onstage poor behavior with last spring's Exit the King, Mauritius is another sharp example of why, in the theater, people behaving badly can be very, very good.
'Mauritius' runs Thursday–Sunday, Sept. 27–Oct. 13, at Main Stage West. 104 N. Main St., Sebastopol. Thursday–Saturday, 8pm; 5pm matinees on Sundays. $15–$25. 415.823.0177.