Brad Lambert, Deborah K.Smith, Tabitha Hodges, Ryan T. Lodge, & Jesse Brown in The Game’s Afoot. Photo courtesy Clarksville Little Theatre.
The Game’s Afoot Or Holmes For The Holidays
By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Alan Weller
Reviewed by Craig Nolan Highley
Entire contents are copyright © 2017 Craig Nolan Highley. All rights reserved.
As a huge fan of all things Sherlockian, I was quite excited to hear that Clarksville Little Theater was going to be mounting a production of legendary comedic playwright Ken Ludwig’s semi-pastiche, The Game’s Afoot or Holmes For The Holidays. I had heard of the play way back when it made its premiere at the Cleveland Playhouse at the Allen Theater in Cleveland, Ohio in December of 2011, but I was not able to get there to see it. To my knowledge, it has only been staged locally one other time.
For those not in the know, the first notable actor to become irrevocably associated with the character of Sherlock Holmes was the legendary William Gillette. Gillette collaborated with Sherlock’s creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, on a stage play called, simply enough, Sherlock Holmes, which had its premiere in 1899. He would continue with the role in that run and subsequent revivals all the way up to 1929, including a silent film adaptation of the play in 1916.
The Game’s Afoot is Ludwig’s love letter to Gillette and Holmes. A genuine murder mystery wrapped in the trappings of a traditional farce, it’s a fun romp that posits a series of events in which Gillette must use the skills he had learned from playing Holmes to solve a series of murders and an attempt on his own life. It’s a mostly well-written, funny, audience-pleasing evening of theater and a genuine whodunit to boot.
Clarksville Little Theater does the play right for the most part, with an energetic cast that has a solid understanding of the material.
Without giving too much away, the plot centers on Gillette inviting the cast of his Holmes play to his mansion in Connecticut to celebrate the Christmas holidays, where he has been recuperating from an assassination attempt that occurred during the curtain call of the closing performance. As the evening goes on, it is discovered that at least one murder has occurred among the show’s crew, and another is about to take place. Typical murder mystery mainstays, such as the presence of a medium, an interrupted séance, and a body that won’t stay dead become part of the plot, all played with high comedy without succumbing to the ridiculous.
As Gillette/Holmes, CLT veteran Brad Lambert is given one of his greatest roles yet. His facial features are perfectly suited to the traditional image of Sherlock Holmes and he attacks the role with the full energy it requires. Also notable is Emily Miller, hilarious as his doting but not-quite-all-there mother Martha. Among the suspects, I especially enjoyed the cocky performance of Ryan T. Land as Simon Bright, the lovable but roguish leading-man type, and Jesse Brown as Felix Geisel, the increasingly exasperated best friend of Gillette. Both actors are extremely funny and do a lot to keep the show moving along once it gets going. I also have to give huge props to Shelly Marquardt Reid as gossip columnist/medium Daria Chase and Dawn Y. Moretz as star-struck police Inspector Harriet Goring. These two ladies may be the funniest things in the first and second acts, respectively.
On the whole, the production is not without its flaws. There was a noticeable lack of energy and a lot of air between the lines for about half of the first act on the opening night I attended, but the pace picked up significantly once the real action started up and maintained through the rest of the play. This type of comedy is all about timing, so they would do well to try to pick up the cues during the first half hour. Also, I’m not sure if lines were dropped or if there was a problem with Ludwig’s script, but I found the final resolution to be a little confusing.
Technical aspects were top-notch. Alan Weller’s direction was fluid, and his set design and costumes were period perfect down to the letter, nicely illuminated by Mike Miller’s lighting.
The show is a real treat for anyone who loves a good mystery, Sherlock Holmes, and/or a ripping comedy, and a perfect diversion for the holiday season.
Featuring Jesse Brown, Jack Francis, Tabitha Hodges, Brad Lambert, Dawn Y. Moretz, Ryan T. Land, Emily Miller, Shelly Marquart Reid, and Debbie Smith.
The Game’s Afoot Or, Holmes For The Holidays
November 10, 11, 12, 17, 18 at 8:00PM
November 19 at 2:00PM
For tickets, please call the box office at 812.283.6522
Clarksville Little Theatre
301 E. Montgomery Avenue
Craig Nolan Highley has been active in local theatre as an actor, director and producer for more than 12 years. He has worked with Bunbury Theater, Clarksville Little Theatre, Finnigan Productions, Louisville Repertory Company, Savage Rose Classical Theatre Co., and WhoDunnit Murder Mystery Theatre among others. He has been a member of the Wayward Actors Company since 2006, and currently serves as their Board President. Craig’s reviews have also appeared in TheatreLouisville and Louisville Mojo.