At the center of the comedic murder mystery, Smoke & Mirrors is Hamilton Orr, a crafty Hollywood film director who wants complete control over a multi-million-dollar movie. In order to take the reins of the film, he comes up with a deadly scheme and recruits his wife, Barbara, and creative partner, Clark, to lend a hand. Things do not go as planned and the wily local sheriff arrives on their doorstep, asking questions.
Actor Ben Cherry makes his FST debut in Smoke & Mirrors playing the duplicitous Hamilton, a man who will do anything to get what he wants. We sat down with Ben Cherry to learn more about his approach to playing such a complicated character, and what drew him to Smoke & Mirrors in the first place.
How would you describe your character, Hamilton? What makes him ‘tick’? Are there any strong similarities between the two of you?
Hamilton is an egocentric manipulator who believes he is always the smartest person in the room and is always happy to prove it. What makes him “tick” is his desire to be in charge of everything that is worth money or worth doing. I would venture to say that I am NOT like him in any way…but in my worst moments I’m sure elements of him pop out from time to time for a quick “hello.”
Smoke & Mirrors is a comedic murder mystery that keeps the audience guessing. What drew you to this play and what were you most excited to explore during the rehearsal process?
I’m most excited to explore the twist and turns of the plot. Nothing is more satisfying than setting a situation up and then pulling the rug out from underneath it, turning earlier perceptions on their heads. Smoke & Mirrors is great at doing that.
This is your first time performing at FST and working with the show’s director Catherine Randazzo. What did you discover or learn about Hamilton during the rehearsal process? What was particularly challenging about getting Smoke & Mirrors on its feet?
What fascinates me about Hamilton is how shameless he is in trying to get what he wants. He will use the people around him like pawns, preying on their weaknesses to manipulate them into doing his bidding. He is never not on task, either, and he always knows which string to pull and what lie to tell.
It is a challenge to make a character like that appealing in any way. Both Catherine and I decided that Hamilton had to have a magnetic charm about him in order to pull off his manipulations.
When you first read the script for Smoke & Mirrors, what resonated with you? What drew you to the character of Hamilton?
I am always attracted to “the doer” or the mastermind in this kind of play. There is nothing more fun on stage for me than to have clear objectives and a variety of ways to achieve them. Hamilton sets up his world with distinct paths to everything he wants. He just has to stick his hand in and twist things a bit. That is the kind of character I can get behind.
You have a lot of experience performing in dramas like Paula Vogel’s Indecent and Angels in America (Parts 1&2). How did your creative approach when preparing for those plays differ from your approach in getting ready to play Hamilton?
There are similarities and differences in my approach to Smoke and Mirrors and the dramatic plays I’ve done recently. Certainly the research quotient is less in a comedic mystery like Smoke and Mirrors as opposed to the history-based drama Indecent or the era-based Angels in America, so I definitely got a break from the library on this one! But also, in getting my head space prepared to tackle Hamilton, it really felt as though I got to get my hands dirty and revert back to the “make believe, playground fun” of youth and explore him by just trying different things out. From what I remember, it was a little like playing out scenarios and stories with friends growing up. Hamilton’s character can truly hold that kind of bombastic approach, because he is that depraved in his egotism.
What do you think audiences will most enjoy about Smoke & Mirrors?
I think the audiences will enjoy the roller coaster twists and turns of Smoke and Mirrors. There are so many that often we as a cast would have to stop rehearsal and do a group think to figure out the logistics of some of them!
Smoke & Mirrors played in FST’s Gompertz Theatre from August 3 - 28, 2022.