Friday, December 3, 2021

The Game's Afoot (review)


Spoilers ahoy!

The central character of Ken Ludwig's play The Game's Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) was in fact a real person.  No, not Sherlock Holmes--but for many, the next best thing.  Before Benedict Cumberbatch, before Jeremy Brett or Basil Rathbone was William Gillette (Neil Thompson), who wrote and starred in the very first full length stage adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth, and did so decade after decade.  The part make him a star.  It also allowed him to build a castle for himself in Connecticut, complete with gadgets and secret panels.

Even as he is the central character of the play, so that castle is the play's setting.  

The story proper, however, is pure fiction.

I presume.  

Not that it matters!  Following a mysterious shooting, Gillette invites a group of friends to his famous castle for Christmas, 1936.  Felix Geisel (Patrick Skelton) and his wife Madge (Barbara Brownwell) plus Simon Bright (Troy Whitaker) and Aggie Wheeler (Sasha Vanderslik), all castmates of Gillette in his Holmes play, join his mother (Clara Rodriquez) as well as the most unwanted guest, a theatre critic and gossip columnist name Daria Chase (Susan Priver).  

What follows begins as a series of games, amid revelations of various secrets, and culminates in an actual murder.  Enter the genuine Inspector Coring (Michelle Shultz), a local police officer with a quite baffling English accent who has to contend with Gillette's charismatic insistence that he himself is a sleuth--at one point even donning a deerstalker!  As this last detail suggests, along with the title, the story is played for laughs.

The result proves very charming indeed, with a host of flamboyant characters traipsing around stage amid hijinks and complications, leading to a series of fun surprises that entertain but do not shock.  Kudos here to Rodriquez and Priver who come very near to stealing the show.   When they are alone together on stage is in many ways the high point.  But then, that is how the play was written.

Larry Eisenberg's direction, the fun and nicely cluttered set design by Chris Winfield, and the often gorgeous costumes by Angela M. Eads all deserve their own nods and applause.

The Game's Afoot plays Friday and Saturdays at 8pm with Sunday matinees at 2pm until January 2, 2022 at the Lonny Chapman Main Stage 10900 Burbank Blvd. NoHo 91601. 

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