“The Last Illusion,” Earns Manitou Theatre First Place in Competition

Anticipation was high in the Mitchell High School Auditorium on the evening of February 5. Students from eleven neighboring high schools were gathered around the stage, waiting for the winners of the annual One-Act Competition to be announced.

“We’re going to try something and we don’t know how well it will work,” announced the judges, talking slowly and quietly. Manitou Springs High School theatre students all held hands and ducked their heads, hoping to hear the name of their production out of the judge’s mouths. “In first place, ‘The Last Illusion.’” Manitou’s section of the audience erupted in excitement, shouting and jumping their way to the stage to be given their award. For the ten seniors in the 21-person cast, this win meant an incredible amount.

“I’m really happy that we won this, especially because I’m a senior, in that this is the first play that I’ve been cast as a lead role,” said Laurel McKenzie (12), who played the role of Bess Houdini, “Now I can walk away with something I can really, really be proud of.”

Manitou won first place overall, followed by Cheyenne Mountain High School and Air Academy High School. “Multiple times we’ve won first place, on a regular occasion we place in the top three,” said Krista McCann, assistant director. Winning three awards as a single performance was a first-time experience for the actors.

The winning show was entitled, “The Last Illusion,” by B. Dwayne Craft. It paid tribute to Harry Houdini’s life, and reenacted the trick that resulted in his demise. Houdini was played by Bennett Cross (12), who ended the night by winning Honorable Mention for Best Actor. Cross spent a considerable amount of rehearsal time learning magic tricks from local magician Bob Hill. During the play, he performed a rope trick, the legendary metamorphosis trick involving a Substitution Trunk, and made Bess disappear while the audience watched. The Manitou actors insist that it is real magic, and will offer no explanation for how such tricks are performed.

Morgan Baker (12), who played the lead in the 2015 fall play, acted as Martin Beck, Houdini’s announcer, in “The Last Illusion.” For this role, he won Best Supporting Actor. “It means that I have a really skilled teacher,” said Baker. He confirmed that this will not be his last performance with the Manitou Springs theatre department. An annual musical that is put on in the spring will be the last opportunity for seniors to act with the department.

The show broadcasted the emotional drama that surrounded Houdini’s loved ones following his death. At one point in the play, Paul Daniel, played by Matt Rivera (11), addressed the audience in an emotional monologue that showed his true feelings about building the submersion tank that ended Houdini’s life. He compared the guilt he felt daily to placing a noose around your best friend’s neck and pulling the lever to end their life. Rivera has been constantly applauded as an important actor for Manitou’s program, and has performed in multiple productions since his freshman year.

At another point during the play, McKenzie’s character, Bess Houdini, told her husband of his mother’s untimely death. During this segment of the play at competition, an audible gasp was released by the audience.

“The Last Illusion,” was praised for using drama and magic to thrill the audience, keeping them constantly ready for more. The winning play was performed one last time after competition, for community members, on the night of Saturday 6, 2016.