Friday, December 02, 2011

The Game's Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays)

THE GAME’S AFOOT delights at CPH

How often does a theatre extend the run of a show before it even opens? Well, since pre-sales were so strong, the Cleveland Play House has added a week of stagings for their world premiere of Ken Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT (or Holmes For the Holidays).

It appears that the doomsayers, who said that the move to downtown would bring about the demise of CPH, were very wrong! So far, the opening season has been an artistic and financial success, and the company’s next show, TEN CHIMNEYS, will inaugurate a new theatre, The Second Stage. It will the first CPH show that has ever been presented in the round.

Ludwig is a well known playwright whose musical, CRAZY FOR YOU, ran over four years on Broadway and in London. In addition, he wrote the oft produced LEND ME A TENOR. He’s also the scribe of MOON OVER BUFFALO, TWENTIETH CENTURY and THE ADVENTURES OF TOM SAWYER.

Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT is billed as a comedy thriller in which we meet famed stage actor William Gillette at his Connecticut home, recovering from an attempt on his life during the curtain call of his renowned play, SHERLOCK HOLMES. Several weeks later he invites the members of the cast and a reporter/critic who is doing a story about him, to spend the holidays in the elaborate home occupied by Gillette and his mother. The castle-like structure is filled with electronic gadgets and hidden rooms. It’s a perfect place for an Agatha Christie-type mystery.
Of course there is a murder and the fun real begins.

More farce than comedy, there are enough early hints of “who did it” so that the revelation of the killer isn’t a great mystery, but the fun is so sharply developed through prat falls, exaggerated situations, and over done shticks, that the whole darn thing works well.

William Hooker Gillette was, in fact, a famous actor in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who is best remembered for his enactments of Sherlock Holmes. He was a proponent of grand stage designs and added many special sound and lighting effects into his productions. His wearing of a deerstalker cap and the smoking of a large curved pipe, became the visual pattern for all who were to play Holmes in other plays, movies and on television. A life-long resident of Connecticut, he actually built a grand castle-like home in that state that is still open for tours.

CPH’s production, under the direction of Aaron Posner, is a delight.

The cast is wonderful. The well-paced timing keys the laughs. Daniel Conway’s set is so impressive that spontaneous applause broke out when it was first revealed. Thom Weaver’s lighting effects, especially the falling snow and quick blackouts, and James Swonger’s sound effects, all added to the wonderment, though one might wonder, besides trying to create a spooky effect, why there was booming thunder during a snow storm. But, that matters little. This is a farce more concerned with affect then effect.

Donald Sage Mackay is Holmes. His tall, lanky physique, pointed nose, and Holmesian attitude are all spot on. Patricia Kilgarriff is a hoot as his curmudgeon mother, who almost kills their dog in her attempt to punish Daria Chase (Erika Rolfsrud) the bad, bad lady theatre critic.

(Why is it that at present there are two shows running in the area which damn theatre critics…this production and Ensemble’s AT NICHOLAS? We are kind hearted people who even give positive reviews to plays that damn us!)

Back to the cast. Rolfsrud makes for a great villain. She even got some complimentary boos during the curtain call. It’s amazing she isn’t all black and blue from the slamming down and around that happens to her.

Sarah Day is delightful as mannish Inspector, Harriet Gorin. She’s Miss Marple (The Agatha Christie character) and Jessica Fletcher (MURDER, SHE WROTE) all rolled into one.

Rob McClure is boyish ingénue-right as Simon Bright. Though she physically fits the role of the blonde innocent, Aggie Wheeler, Mattie Hawkinson’s high pitched voice becomes grating after a while.

Lise Bruneau (Madge Geisel) and Eric Hissom (Felix Geisel) are fine as a bickering couple.

Capsule judgement: THE GAME’S AFOOT is a perfect holiday treat that will delight audiences. It’s a go-see fun evening of theatre.