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A CurtainUp Review
Smoke and Mirrors
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.
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide