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Smoke and Mirrors -06/21/1999

By Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera. Cast: Ashley Green, Stacy Freeman, Jake Schneider, Christopher Denham, Betsy Capes. Director: Sara Lampert Hoover. Scenic Designer: Lee M. Boyer. Costume Designer: Jennifer Flitton Adams. Lighting Designer: Thomas V. Korder. Sound Designer: Sarah Wonak. Properties Designer: Richard Adams. Hair and Makeup Designer: Lisa Lillig.

Summerfest 99

In repertory through July 21. Studio Theater, Krannert Center for the Performing Arts, University of Illinois at Urbana. Box Office: 333-6280.


Everybody always seem to be looking for a good murder mystery to perform in the summer.

That's why "Sleuth" and "Deathtrap" and even thrillers like "Wait Until Dark" are so frequently performed by local companies when the temperature starts to climb.

Unfortunately, that also leads to a tendency to mount less-than-stellar puzzlers, as producers scramble for any old thing that looks like it might be suspenseful.

"Smoke & Mirrors," a cross-and-double-cross sort of mystery with a few comic touches, falls into this latter category. Authors Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera seem to be trying to create a sort of Columbo-in-the-South, lampooning Hollywood backstabbers as they go. But what they've ended up with is a limp, improbable play that in the end is neither terribly suspenseful nor very funny.

"Smoke & Mirrors" takes place on an island, a classic mystery setting that offers good opportunity to isolate suspects and potential victims. This one is off the Mississippi Gulf Coast, in a beach house that belongs to an off-stage governor.

Currently at the beach house are snaky Hollywood producer Hamilton Orr, his pretty, unfaithful wife Barbara, a schlubby screenwriter named Clark, and bad-boy actor Derek. Hamilton, Clark and Derek made a hit movie together and are supposedly going to work on a sequel, but they can't seem to get along for more than five minutes.

It seems Clark blames Hamilton for ruining his screenplays, Hamilton knows Clark slept with Barbara, Derek is a terrible actor with a taste for drugs, booze and nymphets, and nobody wants to share screen credits with anyone else.

Once they're all collected, somebody tries to kill somebody by making it look as if somebody else did it, while various factions form alliances behind other people's backs.

Plans proceed, shots rings out, and one of the above lies in a pool of blood.
Into this mess walks Sherrif Leanne Lumpkin, a down-home, chicken-fried version of Lt. Columbo. There are conversations about pickles, coffee and what exactly a producer does as Leanne ferrets out the truth.

The Summerfest 99 production of "Smoke & Mirrors" features a good cast, a fun set designed by Lee M. Boyer, and a sharply done denouement, when all is finally revealed. The rest of the evening is slow-going, however, with a game cast left stranded by the script's limitations.

Among the performers, Christopher Denham fares the best as enfant terrible Derek, and the energy level on stage rises appreciably every time he enters. Given Denham's resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio, he is entirely believable as a boyish star on the rise.

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