By Vicki Paris Goodman
Once you’ve seen ten or twenty murder mysteries, they start to become what I would call “partially predictable.” In the case of Smoke & Mirrors, this is certainly the case. Still, there are stylistic differences that set each of these suspense thrillers apart from the others, making the experience fresh and entertaining.
Playwright Eric Overmyer’s “comedy adventure” takes place in a single room of the governor’s vacation home in Mississippi. The locale turns out to have curiously little to do with the story but creates some opportunities for laugh-out-loud comic turns in the script, so what the heck.
In Smoke & Mirrors, Hollywood directorial spouses Hamilton and Barbara Orr (J.D. Weiss and Elizabeth Woodberry) have borrowed the Mississippi main man’s maritime manse for a movie-planning pow wow with screenwriter Clark (Carl DaSilva) and the film’s designated male lead, Derek (Tyler Crosby).
Control freak Hamilton is anything but secretive about his loathing for the narcissistic and boorish Derek. The nervous Clark, who protects every word of his screenplay with an overwrought phobia against the slightest editing, plays right into Hamilton’s daring plot. Or does he?
When Hamilton and Clark propose to draw Derek into a deadly rehearsal of the script’s final scene, things don’t quite go as planned.
Tom Hardy stars as the seemingly inept southern sheriff who’s dumb like a fox– think Peter Falk’s Columbo. This character type has probably been overused, but Hardy’s portrayal makes the character so likable that it scarcely matters.
The attractive Barbara and panicky Clark, who have had an affair at some point, seem like strange bedfellows– pun intended! Are the actors simply miscast or poorly directed, or are the characters something other than whom they appear?
Furthermore, how did Clark wind up with a real bullet in a gun that had been checked, by the victim no less, to make sure it was unloaded? And how could the obviously clever sheriff arrest a man who had killed by accident?
What makes Smoke & Mirrors a little disconcerting is our inability to decide which characters to root for. With the exception of the ever laudable sheriff, Overmyer has us swirling in and out of admiration and approval for those who populate his play. Naughty playwright!
Playhouse veteran Mitchell Nunn directs the cast that gets better and better as the performance goes on.
Beverly Turner’s aquamarine seaside-themed set fills the bill well.
Smoke & Mirrors is a worthy comedy thriller with which the Playhouse has done a fine job. In the end, you might even find that you have guessed the play’s outcome– but only partially.
Smoke & Mirrors continues on the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage through Aug. 28. General admission tickets are $22; $20 for seniors. Student tickets are $12 with valid student ID. Performances are Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees at 2pm on Sundays, Aug. 1–22. The Long Beach Playhouse is located at 5021 E. Anaheim St. Call (562) 494-1014 for reservations and information. Tickets are also available online at lbplayhouse.org.
By Vicki Paris Goodman