William Gillette is a successful Broadway actor who has made a career playing Sherlock Holmes. While taking a curtain call, someone in the theater takes a shot at him, superficially wounding his arm. Not long after this he invites some thespian friends to spend the Christmas holidays in the spacious, welcoming home he shares with his mother. The others are discouraged to learn he’s invited Daria Chase, a vicious Drama Critic who has made them all miserable, at one time or another. She profiling Gillette for Vanity Fair, and he figures it can’t hurt to make nice. Since Gillette’s recent “brush with death” they’ve learned a perennial stage hand has been murdered. They decide to hold a séance (actually a ruse) to contact him, with disastrous results. Furious at this fiasco, Daria leaves the weekend early, vowing to ruin them all. While waiting for her taxi, someone (poetically) knifes her in the back. At last Gillette will have his opportunity to be an actual sleuth. Though Inspector Goring must keep reminding him that she is the sole detective on the case, his “experience” and “skills“, do seem to prove effective.
Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot (Holmes for the Holidays) is a relaxed romp, mixing witty banter with juicy secrets and skullduggery. It’s got plenty of clever dialogue, physical comedy, glamorous gowns, and a mystery to be unraveled. Using the traditional paradigm introduced by Agatha Christie, Ludwig injects a despised and despicable character into a gathering of guests, any one of which would be elated to see them dead. Ludwig’s approach to the material is sly and dry, the tone just sardonic enough to keep the plot intriguing without being ghoulish. You could say it’s a murder mystery masquerading as a comedy, but probably, it’s closer to the reverse. No play containing this many stock elements, combined with Ludwig’s mischievous touches, intends to be taken at face value. Ludwig spoofs the genre without skewering it, adhering to the rules while nudging us in the ribs.
Director Robin Armstrong brought an assured, intelligent hand to the nimble, effervescent cast of The Game’s Afoot. It was a joy to experience their buoyant, sleek brand of humor : Krista Scott (Inspector Goring) Greg Holt (William Gillette) Christian Genco (Simon Bright) Kaycee Reininger (Aggie Wheeler) Allyn Carrell (Martha Gillette) Emily Scott Banks (Madge Geisel) Randy Pearlman (Felix Geisel) and Sherry Hopkins (Daria Chase).
[Between the ice storms and a bout with a nasty cold, this review came out late. My humblest apologies.]
The Game’s Afoot closed at The WaterTower Theatre on January 5th, 2014. 15650 Addison Road, Addison, Texas 75001. 972-450-6262. www.watertowertheatre.org