This weekend I had the pleasure of attending an opening weekend performance of The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays), by Ken Ludwig at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre (“Spotlighters”). Award-winning Ludwig is known for his period-piece farces – popular plays like Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo. He bills this funny drawing-room mystery as a “comedy thriller” and I happily approve. I love mysteries and, as Director Fuzz Roark noted in his curtain speech, we all could benefit from some lighthearted laughs after the stressful election season we’ve endured.
The Game’s Afoot is a whodunit set in December 1936. Following an attempt on his life, Broadway star William Gillette (Thom Eric Sinn) invites his cast-mates to his home to celebrate Christmas with him as he recovers. With the blessing of Arthur Conan Doyle, Gillette wrote the Sherlock Holmes play in which he has starred for decades and he has amassed quite a fortune. He used the money to build an honest-to-goodness castle on the Connecticut River, complete with secret passages, hidden rooms, and state-of-the-art gadgets like an intercom and a remote control. Impressed, one of his guests jokes, “This is where God would live if he could afford it.” This is the setting of The Game’s Afoot.
Unknown to his guests – longtime friend Felix Geisel (Tom Piccin), his wife, Madge (Ilene Chalmers), and newlyweds Simon Bright (Andrew Wilkin) and Aggie Wheeler (Kellie Podsednik) – Gillette has called them together not only to share some holiday spirit, but to ferret out the identity of the assailant who tried to kill him. To the delight of no one, neither his guests nor his mother, Martha (Penny Nichols), Gillette has also secretly invited the much-maligned Daria Chase (Melanie Bishop). A scheming theater critic who has written something dreadful about pretty much all in attendance, Daria is an unwelcome addition to the party.
True to the genre, The Game’s Afoot is full of twists and turns, misdirection and misadventure. While Gillette is busy sleuthing to solve his own mysterious attack, one of his guests falls victim to foul play and the evening becomes a double whodunit. By the time Inspector Harriet Gorring (Suzanne Hoxsey) arrives on the scene in Act II, everybody is a suspect. Even more than in the quick-moving, suspenseful Act I, the second act runs in high gear from its start after intermission until the very last scene. Wacky antics; perfectly-timed entrances and exits; characters just missing each other or appearing in unexpected places; and sharp, witty dialogue keep you guessing and make the second half of the play fly by.
Each of the actors in this production does a great job playing bold, genre-stereotype characters without coming off as a caricature. Kellie Podsednik, as the ingénue, Aggie, brings just the right balance of wide-eyed innocent and ambitious starlet. Andrew Wilkin adeptly uses body language to help define Simon Bright as a charming social climber. Particularly impressive in Wilkin’s performance was how present he was in scenes even when he was not speaking. Wilkin’s facial expressions while hearing the others talk were priceless and provide a lot of insight into his character.
Thom Eric Sinn’s performance as William Gillette was wonderful. Sinn played Gillette as bigger than life, perfectly suited for a character who is used to being the star of the show. Likewise, Tom Piccin, as Gillette’s BFF and costar Felix Giesel, was spot on. Piccin has excellent timing and delivered some of the funniest lines in the play with a pleasing, dry wit.
The creative team for this show transformed the theater into the perfect setting to let these actors shine. I can’t even imagine how many hours it took Set Designer/Scenic Artist Alan S. Zemla to put together such a detailed, meticulous set. For one, there were five doors gracing the small theater, mentally expanding the set to include a boat dock, kitchen and other rooms. In the main room, the walls were adorned with dozens of period-appropriate items one might find in a castle designed by a man whose alter-ego is the world’s most famous consulting detective. There were axes, daggers, a broadsword, knives, firearms… even a garrote. Shelves were stuffed full with knick knacks, candles, and tchotchkes. In another excellent directorial choice, when set changes were necessary, the tech who came on stage to make them was dressed in a maid’s costume.
Speaking of costumes, Costume Designer Andrew Malone did absolutely gorgeous work here. Thirties and forties society attire is so glamourous and beautiful! The gown Aggie wears upon arrival to the Gillette castle is lovely. And the dusty pink dress Daria wears is elegant and downright stunning.
I highly recommend The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) at Audrey Herman Spotlighters Theatre. At a time when we need it, this play is fun and funny, an energetic romp that keeps you guessing and laughing from start to finish. With great acting, an amazing set, beautiful costumes and excellent direction, The Game’s Afoot is a production you’ll be thankful you attended.
Running Time: Two hours and 30 minutes, with one intermission.