Tina Jo Wallace and Brian Bowman in The Game’s Afoot.
Photo-Derby Dinner Playhouse
The Game’s Afoot
By Ken Ludwig
Produced & Directed by: Bekki Jo Schneider
Review by Annette Skaggs
Entire contents are copyright © 2014, Annette Skaggs. All rights reserved.
“Come, Watson, come! The game is afoot. Not a word! Into your clothes and come!” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes says to Dr. Watson in The Adventure of the Abbey Grange. As most of us know this is a reference to Shakespeare’s famous Henry V “Into the breach…” speech. And so into the breach we will go to discover a bit of entertainment in the mystery-comedy The Game’s Afoot now playing at Derby Dinner Playhouse.
For those of you that are not familiar with actor-producer William Gillette, let me give you a brief background. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tried to bring his character of Sherlock Holmes successfully to stage but was frustrated in doing so. Mr. Gillette then took that opportunity and made it all his own and found wild success portraying Sherlock Holmes all over the world, in the late 19th to early 20th centuries and making the deerstalker cap and meerschaum pipe the recognizable symbols to Sherlock’s identity. Aside from Mr. Gillette’s success as Sherlock he was also famous for new lighting and staging techniques as well as Gillette Castle. If you ever visit Connecticut, put this on your list of places to visit. His magnificent house, built to his exact specifications included some of the first speakerphones, recording devices, hidden rooms and a working three-mile long railroad that traveled along his property.
As the “curtain” rises Sherlock and Dr. Moriarity are doing their good guy/bad guy dance that we are familiar with and the curtain drops. When the curtain rises again the actors begin their bows then “Bang”. The lights become brighter and we are at the stately Gillette Castle on Christmas Eve 1936 (a side note, Mr. Gillette passed in 1937). Martha Gillette (Rita Thomas), William’s mother, is frantically looking for her shoe in preparation for the arrival of guests for a Christmas weekend in the country. In walks William (Brian Bowman), in a sling. Yes, dear William was the victim of the shooting a few weeks prior at the theater. There is a buzz at the door and in walks Felix Geisel and his wife Madge (David Myers and Tina Jo Wallace) soon to be followed by Simon Bright (Zachary Burrell) and his new wife Aggie Wheeler (Joey Banigan)….the cast of Sherlock Holmes.
I am not going to give anything away but I will tell you this….it is fun. As the evening progresses stories of the past come to life, especially as Daria Chase (Janet Essenpries) arrives to most everyone’s chagrin. We learn that Ms. Chase is a theater critic/reporter for Vanity Fair and knows quite a bit about her fellow weekenders. To ease some of the tension in the room the group agrees to participate in a séance to try to solve the murder of a stage manager the night before. Ms. Essenpries and Ms. Wallace give themselves to their roles in this part. Entertaining to say the least.
So with the séance what unfolds is life imitating art. Who shot William? Who killed the stage manager? What other villainous happenings occurred that Daria wanted to expose?
Gasp….a murder occurs in the Gillette Castle. Daria is dead. And the slapstick way this is handled by Mr. Myers is hilarious. Soon there arrives a go-get-em Female Police Inspector Goring (Elizabeth Loos), who plays it gruff and suspicious and on her toes.
As each person’s background emerges, including coincidences in past tragedies, the actors begin to emulate their characters. Felix calls out to William: “You know that you are not really Sherlock Holmes”. Yet, Felix and Madge believe that they are the ones that have solved the clues. Is a newlywed couple, brilliantly played by both Ms. Banigan and Mr. Burrell, innocent victims in all of the goings-on?
Again….not going to reveal too much. But did they? Are they?
Rita Thomas is fun to watch as William’s mother and Brian Bowman’s William encapsulates what I believe to be how William Gillette was, even down to the eccentricity of a person with lots of money and a vivid imagination. An exploding Monkey?
And I commend the Footnotes for their choice of tunes starting the program. To commemorate the Belle of Louisville’s Centennial Anniversary, they sang songs that one would probably hear as you walk from the wharf, across the gangplank and onto our lovely Belle.
The Game’s Afoot
October 7 – November 16, 2014
Derby Dinner Playhouse
525 Marriot Drive
Clarksville, IN 47129
[box_light]Annette Skaggs is a heavily involved Arts Advocate here in Louisville and freelance professional opera singer who has performed throughout Europe, St. Louis, Cincinnati, Boulder, Little Rock, Peoria, Chicago, New York and of course Louisville. Aside from her singing career she has been a production assistant for Kentucky Opera, New York Opera and Northwestern University. She has a 25+ year knowledge of the Classical Arts.[/box_light]