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A CurtainUp Review
Smoke and Mirrors

This play is an act of provocation. I tried to mitigate the effect of the smoking on the audience by setting the play inside a clear box. In The Flea's production we are not using that box, and what that does is put us all in the smoking room. We're watching but we're also participants. We're all breathing in that smoke.
— laywright Goodrich in a conversation with Director Faust on the constant use of smoking in Smoke and Mirrors.
Parrish Hurley asChad & Stas May as Drew lighting up.
Plays about corporate automatons are difficult to do, and to watch. Most members of the audience will empathize a little too much, and go home in despair—or completely turn off since the fare is so familiar. After a day in a cubicle, under fluorescent lights, who wants to see a play about that?

Smoke and Mirrors at the Flea treads a fine line—it tries to be soulless enough to accurately reflect the average American workplace, but sardonic enough that we can laugh at it. Often it succeeds but it's not yet the polished commentary on the utter lack of human connection in the office that is its core message.

Playwright Joseph Goodrich documents the life of a group of chain-smoking workers in the plastic and Formica break room of an unnamed company in an unidentified industry. We know that Anita works in transportation and that Moses and Tammie are security guards, but nothing about two guys who habitually come into the cafeteria in blood-drenched lab coats, reeking of. . .well, something.

Most of the play seems to be a study in small talk and minutiae, another average day, with the characters chitchatting about the weather and the news and their pets. It's only toward the end that a larger purpose start to reveal itself in some ominous happenings: A dark-skinned employee is fired for circulating a politically inflammatory email, even though there is no proof that he sent it. A bad batch of cafeteria tacos gives everyone food poisoning, resulting in a mass vomiting scene. Anita is transferred to another department, but gets trapped in the break room when the gates close, all the doors lock, and the company shuts down for the night. Though these are all unrelated events, they highlight the brutal pointlessness of these characters' workday lives.

The constant smoking, like most of the actions in Smoke and Mirrors, has no real point, but it's a nice piece of shtick. Smokers, now more than ever, often form an instant camaraderie as the oppressed minority. Though here everyone smokes constantly, there's no camaraderie to be had.

A play without any substantive story other than to serve as a study in pointlessness can seem, well, pointless. Yet, the emptiness at the center is carefully and pitilessly drawn. The characters (especially the two men in lab coats) are caricatured just enough to allow us some ironic distance. Director Nick Faust, a longtime collaborator with playwright Goodrich, keeps the workers' ennui at a fever pitch (which sounds like a contradiction in terms, but in this production, is just right).

Since this is the venerable Flea and the actors are the Bats (the resident company of young up-and-coming actors) the acting is the best part of the show. Bats Jason Dirden, Ben Horner, Parrish Hurley, Susan Hyon, Jocelyn Kuritsky, Aurelia Lavizzo, and Stas May display a great sense of ensemble acting and comedic timing.

While Smoke and Mirrors is ultimately just what its title indicates, some truly funny and insightful moments that make it well worth seeing — that's provided you don't mind the constant smoking (it IS herba) and that mass vomiting scene.

Smoke and Mirrors
Written by Joseph Goodrich
Directed by Nick Faust
Cast: Jason Dirden (Terry), Ben Horner (Moses), Parrish Hurley (Chad), Susan Hyon (Anita), Jocelyn Kuritsky (Estelle), Aurelia Lavizzo (Tammie), and Stas May (Drew)
Costume Design: Elizabeth R. Payne
Costume Design: Elizabeth R. Payne
Lighting Design: Joshua Higgason
Sound Design: Brandon Wolcott
Set Design: Neal Wilkinson
Running Time: One hour and thirty minutes, with no intermission
The Flea Theater, 41 White Street; 212-226-2407
Tickets $20; Schedule varies
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on May 3rd performance
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