Leila Toba & Andrew Mertz in Smoke & Mirrors. Photo courtesy of LRC
Smoke & Mirrors
By Will Osborne & Anthony Herrera
Directed by George Robert Bailey
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2016, Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
When you hear the term “murder mystery” it’s natural to think of Agatha Christie, Sherlock Holmes, or Jessica Fletcher. There’s a certain sequence of events you expect, character tropes to be introduced, a murder halfway through the story, and then a series of clues to piece together before a master detective reveals the identity of the killer.
As with any established formula, it’s rewarding when a work does something fresh and strays from the expected. It’s that type of novelty that endeared me to the Louisville Repertory Company’s latest offering, Smoke & Mirrors, currently running at the Bard’s Town. I went in expecting the standard three-act whodunit, but what I witnessed was anything but.
The play starts out with the usual murder mystery trappings. Characters are introduced, it becomes obvious that everyone wants to kill one of them, and we are not surprised when that someone bites the dust. But things are not that simple!
We begin with a Dial M For Murder type setup, in which two characters begin to plot a murder. Things shift gears when we actually see the murder carried out, leaving no real question as to the killer’s identity. Then we shift to what feels like an episode of Columbo as a bumbling police officer comes to the scene to try to discern what happened. And even that plot strand doesn’t lead where you expect it to lead.
Without giving too much away, the plot revolves around a weekend getaway for a movie star (Drew Spurrier), a cynical director (Sean Childress), his vampish wife (Leila Toba), and a much-abused screenwriter (Andrew Mertz). When the expected romantic entanglements are revealed and a murder occurs, a seemingly half-witted (but not so dumb!) Sheriff (Rich Williams) is called upon to see through the titular smoke and mirrors.
Director George Robert Bailey has coaxed some great performances from his actors, and keeps the story moving along at a nice pace. All of the performers give it their all, and are never less than believable. Mertz steals the show with his increasingly flustered performance as the harried screenwriter; his slow build to hysterics feels real and unforced. Toba just oozes sex appeal as the director’s sex kitten of a wife (and boy can she rock a two piece bathing suit!). Sean Childress’ director is so manipulative and oily you’ll feel the need to shower after. Williams is all Southern charm and gentleman but you can tell he’s hiding a real intelligence. Only Spurrier seems out of place; he is extremely funny and obviously a talented actor, but seems a bit long in the tooth and the wrong body type to be playing a character that is clearly intended to recall a young, Bill & Ted-era Keanu Reeves.
On the technical side, Spurrier and J.C. Nixon’s set is quite nice, evoking a beachfront vacation home that would be quite inviting. Martin French has pulled off some nice work with the limited capabilities of the Bard’s Town’s lighting capabilities as well.
There were some awkward pauses and flubbed lines during the performance I attended, but that is sometimes to be expected on opening night. It is a very entertaining show; funny and full of plot twists, and one that is really worth checking out.
Featuring Sean Childress, Andrew Mertz, Drew Spurrier, Leila Toba, and Rich Williams.
Smoke & Mirrors
August 5, 6, 12, 13 @ 7:30pm
August 7 & 14 @ 6:00pm
Louisville Repertory Company
At The Bard’s Town
1801 Bardstown Road
Louisville, KY 40205
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 14 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.