By Theresa Rebeck
Through May 17
Miami local theater
4120 Laguna St., Coral Gables
Mauritius is a play about overvalued bits of paper and the way people screw each other over in order to get them. We're talking about stamps, but also money — both figure heavily in this giddy little whirlwind of a story. The show is an allegorical exploration of capitalism through the lens of philately, or perhaps, in some crazy way, it's the other way around. That giddy little whirlwind scoops up two half-sisters, one professional philatelist (that's a stamp enthusiast), one professional arms dealer and amateur philatelist, and one stamp-loving bum, and pits them against each other to lay hands on a dead guy's multimillion-dollar stamp collection. The narrative and certain minor aspects of its presentation have flaws, but they don't matter much. What matters is the way actors Bill Schwartz, Israel Garcia, Michael McKeever, and Michaela Cronan turn up the heat as their characters grow more desperate to get those stamps, and how the energy level in the auditorium mounts as the play progresses. A scene involving Cronan, Garcia, and Schwartz haggling over the collection is one of the most perfectly executed and emotionally fraught moments you'll see rendered onstage.
By Nilaja Sun
Through May 17
GableStage at the Biltmore
1200 Anastasia Ave., Coral Gables
Here's an original story idea: An idealistic teacher goes to an inner-city school and teaches a bunch of toughs about the beauty of learning and art, and gives them an inkling of their own potential and self-worth for the first time in their whole wasted, ghettolicious lives. Le yawn. Thank God for actress Lela Elam, who makes this tatty old formula seem if not new, then at least vital. She plays with great verve not only the teacher, but also the students, two of her co-workers, the principal, and an old janitor. Elam works it nonstop for 90 sweat-drenched minutes, never pausing for breath and never slipping up. It's such an impressive display that the story is almost secondary. See it.
By Giacomo Puccini
Through May 9
Adrienne Arsht Center
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1300 Biscayne Blvd., Miami
Butterfly is maybe the most frequently performed opera in America. It is also probably the most influential: If there were no Madama Butterfly, there'd be no M. Butterfly, no Miss Saigon, and no Weezer's Pinkerton. This is the story of Ciao-Ciao San, a Japanese maiden who is wooed, deflowered, impregnated, and abandoned by an English seaman. She waits for his return, in the process forsaking her family and faith. All for nothing, as it turns out. Puccini set this story to the most blistering, powerful, and challenging music he ever wrote — music containing many perils for his singers (especially his spinto sopranos, many of whom have been defeated by Ciao-Ciao San) and great rewards for his audience.