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San Francisco by Richard Connema

Playhouse West presents a little known comedy mystery Smoke and Mirrors


Also see Richard's review of Anna Christie and My Antonia

Smoke and Mirrors
(l-r) Morgan Mackay and
Chris Pfluege

Playhouse West is currently presenting a comedic murder mystery called Smoke and Mirrors by Will Osborne and Anthony Herrera. This is a rarely performed play that was first presented on a 12 city tour in Mississippi. It never saw the lights of Broadway, or Off Broadway for that matter. Some midwest regional companies have picked up the lightweight piece for patrons not looking for heavy drama or sophisticated comedy. This piece has none of those qualities.

Smoke and Mirrors is part Sleuth and part Deathtrap, and there are plenty of smoke and mirrors in the second act of this comedy murder mystery. Also, I got the feeling I saw this or some of this on an old Columbo television show since the sheriff is a good ol' boy Southern Mississippi police officer.

Osborne and Herrera's excursion into this genre is not as clever as those mentioned above, but it is relativity tolerable, especially when Robert Parnell as the sheriff hams it up in the second act. For some reason, he hit my funny bone and I enjoyed his way out performance as a smart as a fox detective.

Smoke and Mirrors takes place on an island in the gulf just off the state of Mississippi. It gives Mr. Parnell a good chance to use his Hee Haw accent. The beach house that is owned by the governor of the state is currently being rented to a well known snaky Hollywood producer/director Hamilton Orr (Chris Pfueger), his nervous and unfaithful wife Barbara (Lois Hansen), a panicky screenplay writer Clark Robinson (Morgan Mackay) and a pretty-boy ego-driven loud-mouth "move star" Derek (Derek Lux). They are all there to work a sequel to their blockbluster movie called Vicksburg, which made a ton of money at the box office. These are supposed to be true Hollywood types and no one really likes each other. These are the kind of people you would not turn your back on.

Obviously, Smoke and Mirrors would not be a murder mystery if one of these characters did not get killed. I really don't think it takes a Sherlock to know who gets bumped off at the end of the first act. The first act is quick since you really don't care who killed whom. However, stay around for the second act when our good ol' sheriff gets to the bottom of things. There is a lot of conversation about some good homemade pickles in the pantry of the house, and our sheriff sure loves the special Columbian coffee that is delivered every other week to the governor's beach house. Oh, he is a clever person no doubt, even with his down home country accent.

Lois Grandi features a nice cast headed by veteran actor Robert Parnell (The Gin Game and The Rainmaker). Chris Pflueger (A View from the Bridge in Portland and Playhouse West production of Private Eyes) fares well as the ego driven producer/director while Derek Lux (who was great as Tony in their production of The Boy Friend) does tend to go completely over board on his taste for drugs, booze and young girls. A little of him goes a long way. Morgan Mackay (Playhouse West's Whispers in the Wind) seems to be too high strung as the playwright and seems to be working in a French farce. Lois Hansen (How the Other Half Loves) does what she can as scared rabbit of a wife and PR for her husband Hamilton.

Smoke and Mirrors runs through April 24 at the Knights 3 theatre located at the Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts, 1601 Civic Drive, Walnut Creek. For tickets call 925-943-7469 or visit www.playhousewest.org. Their next production will be the Northern California Premiere of Jason Robert Brown's The Last Five Years.


Cheers - and be sure to Check the lineup of great shows this season in the San Francisco area


- Richard Connema



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