Anyone who saw productions at the Indiana Repertory Theatre from its inaugural 1974 -75 through its 2009-2010 seasons will remember Priscilla Lindsay, one of its most popular and prolific actors. Having appeared in over 60 IRT shows, Lindsay left Indy to become Chair of the Theatre Department in the School of Music, Theatre, and Dance at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Now, four years later, she’s back as a cast member of “The Game’s Afoot,” Ken Ludwig’s zany spoof of the murder mystery genre, which opened April 23 and continues through May 18 on the IRT’s One America Stage. This writer attended Sunday’s matinee.
Lindsay, who played Martha Gillette, joined a cast of local and Chicago actors for this performance. They included Matthew Brumlow (William Gillette), Rob Johansen (Felix Geisel), Constance Macy (Madge Geisel), Jürgen Hooper (Simon Bright), Aggie Wheeler (Hillary Clemens), Jennifer Johansen (Daria Chase) and Carmen Roman (Inspector Goring). Accomplished character actors all, they were directed by Peter Amster, whose most recent IRT credits include “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” “Dracula” and “The 39 Steps.”
“The Game’s Afoot” is about “Theatre folk behaving badly,” wrote Amster in his program notes. William Gillette, an American actor who created the role of Sherlock Holmes for the stage, was Ludwig’s inspiration for the play. It’s Christmas Eve, 1936, and the setting is Gillette’s isolated Connecticut mansion, during a snowstorm, to which he has invited his fellow cast members for a weekend of merriment. Things turn deadly, however, when one of his houseguests is murdered, compelling Gillette to revert to his stage alter-ego in order to reveal the killer before he or she strikes again. From that point on, it’s a mystery thriller, with laughs aplenty, chock full of suspense, clues, red herrings, special effects, plot twists, stock characters and surprises.
One of the better casts seen thus far this season by Examiner.com, the performers in “The Game’s Afoot” were not only consummate comedians but also showed impeccable timing and affinity for one another as ensemble members. It was clear that they relished playing opposite one another. Like any good farce, “The Game’s Afoot” has lots of physical comedy. And some of the best ever seen by this writer takes place in a scene during which several characters attempt to hide the body of the deceased murder victim in order to avoid its detection. Executing the hilarious, well-choreographed mayhem which became a running gag that never ran out of steam were Rob and Jennifer Johansen and Brumlow.
J. Johansen stood out as the larger than life Daria Chase, the deliciously evil, notoriously bitchy and vindictive theater critic who plots to steal someone else’s husband and threatens to ruin another’s career with a bad review if she doesn’t get her way.
From the moment Lindsay made her entrance, she charmed the audience with her portrayal as Gillette’s ditzy-yet-kindhearted mother Martha, a character least likely to engage in foul play, yet, like the play’s other characters, comes under suspicion.
R. Johansen also gave a strong performance as William’s best friend Felix, who plays Watson to his Sherlock Holmes and who carries a compromising secret. Another IRT veteran, “The Game’s Afoot” is Johansen’s 41st show. Once again, he demonstrated his versatile talent and penchant for broad physical comedy.
Roman, who was marvelous as the overbearing actress Gloria Hilton in the IRT’s Feb. production of “Who Am I Now?,” stood out here, too, as Inspector Goring, the bespectacled, cape and sensible shoe-wearing, serious-minded geek who loves police work but secretly yearns to be a dramatic actress.
The real Gillette, who is acknowledged for his important contributions to the theater through the realistic sets and sound and lighting effects he devised, would surely have been impressed with the first rate production elements of this show. Theater goers who saw IRT’s March production of “Other Desert Cities” were bowled over by its mid-century inspired living room set. Those seeing this production will find scenic designer Russell Metheney’s lavish interior representing the medieval flavored (with art deco touches) grand hall of Gillette’s home equally captivating. Enhancing the elegance of the castle’s surroundings while reinforcing its mystery is Ann Wrightson’s lighting design. Designer Tracy Dorman reflected the glamour of the ‘30s era through her costumes and Gregg Coffin’s music arrangements elevated the production’s tongue-in-cheek dramatic tension.
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