G.B. Dixon, Gobi, & Oli in The Game’s Afoot. Photo: Little Colonel

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The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays)

By Ken Ludwig
Directed by Larry Chaney

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Ken Ludwig is among the most prolific contemporary playwrights, with a prodigious output originating from New York, Washington, D.C., and London productions. Several, including this one, have become popular choices for community theatres.

Having just come off reviewing a holiday-themed Sherlock Holmes play a week ago, it is curious to now be looking at The Game’s Afoot, set on Christmas Eve and Holmes adjacent. Someone shot the famous late 19th and early 20th American actor William Gillette (G.B.Dixon) during a curtain call for his play, Sherlock Holmes. Wounded in the arm, Gillette recuperates in his Connecticut home and entertains guests on December 24. Fellow actors in his Holmes production, Aggie Wheeler (Oli), Simon Bright (Gobi), and Felix Geisel (Perry Arnold) who is accompanied by his wife, Madge (Elizabeth Tomey). Gillette’s mother, Martha (Kitty Wagner) lives with him.

Everyone seems ready to enjoy themselves until Gilette reveals that he has also invited acid-tongued theatre critic Daria Chase (Erica Lamb) to the party, and her arrival is not at all popular.

Ludwig creates a classic dark and stormy night murder mystery while also spoofing the very same. His fondness for storylines in the theatre allows him to also tap into the rumors of Gillette’s supposed identification with his most famous character so that the arrival of an unlikely female police detective (Cathy Ryan) generates a bit of a rivalry.

G.B. Dixon is a fine Gillette, with a neat balance of matinee idol profile and authoritative but not arrogant actor’s vanity for the theatre legend. Perry Arnold is a bit stolid as his best friend and acting companion, Felix, yet he has a sure sense for wry line delivery and nails all of his punch lines.

Aggie was played by a face new to me, billed as Oli, who delivers an intriguing performance of sexy, old-school glamour that satisfies the tradition of the femme fatale while balancing that against the tropes of the ingenue. All while managing to fully flesh Aggie out as an individual. They also have a great, terror-filled scream when it is required. Aggie’s boyfriend, Simon, is also memorable, a mannered and eccentric performance from Gobi that feels utterly contemporary but not at all out-of-place here.

Elizabeth Tomey is in fine form as Madge, as are Erica Lamb and Kitty Wagner, but this is the point where a review must by necessity stop exploring characters and by extension performances. In this kind of story, first impressions are misleading, assumptions are a fool’s errand, and spoilers are the bane of intellectual discourse. 

Director Larry Chaney manages the blocking and details with confidence, and the settings were good with even better costumes, although a couple of ill-fitting pieces were distracting even while they dazzled (oh but for a budget that affords a seamstress!). I do think playwright Ludwig defers to quoting Shakespeare a bit too often. We get it. They are actors and they love to do it, but enough already. 

I think Ludwig delivers satisfying entertainment here, one that risks being dated with its reliance on William Gillette, a historical figure remote enough from the general public to be effectively fictional; a symbol of the grandiloquent master thespian. But I also think Ludwig crafts the situation well enough that it doesn’t matter. Get caught up in the mystery of The Game’s Afoot and laugh at yourself while doing it. It seems the perfect response.

Featuring Perry Arnold, G.B. Dixon, Gobi, Erica Lamb, Oli, Cathy Ryan, Elizabeth Tomey, & Kitty Wagner.   

The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays)

December 1, 2, 7, 8, 9 @ 7:30 pm
December 3, 10 @ 2:00 pm

Little Colonel Players
302 Mt Mercy Drive 
Pewee Valley, KY 40056

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.