It’s Christmas Eve, 1936. While the nation struggles with the Great Depression, popular Broadway actor William Gilette (Robert Molossi) invites his fellow actors from a sold-out Sherlock Holmes who done it to his castle on the banks of the Conn river in East Haddan. They arrive expecting to celebrate the holidays, but he has other plans. Earlier that week, someone standing in the staff area at the rear of the theatre shot and wounded him in the shoulder while he was performing onstage at New York’s Palace Theatre. Now assuming the shooter had to be a person connected with the show because the doorman would not have let in a stranger, he decides to carry his Sherlock Holmes role into real life by investigating the cast, their husbands and wives. The mystery soon deepens when the stage doorman and the party-crashing New York theatre critic are murdered!
Who was responsible for this mayhem — and why? That, in a nutshell, is the plot of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot currently onstage in a lively and entertaining production at the Ross Valley Players Barn Theater. You might think it sounds like a typical Agatha Christie mystery, but you’d be wrong. Although Ludgwig styled his play like a “comedy thriller” the pun intended in his subtitle, Holmes for the Holidays reveals that the author of Lend Me a Tenor is up to his old tricks. Game’s is mixture of anything goes: melodrama, satire, parody, broad farce – with only the slenderest thread of mystery and some judgmental remarks about personal morality – all combined!
This can be a slippery slope of course. There may be too much nonsense silliness, too many twists and turns – such that one might ask whether it’s losing audience involvement. On the other hand, the overall performance shows RVP Director Christian Haines knows what he is doing, and actors who are uninhibited enough to shed all semblance of acceptable behavior, the freedom to shed normal constraints as they go into the script’s numerous comic situations. Although Director Haines and his acting ensemble occasionally stray into over-indulgence, the decision to play the text broadly succeeds in the main.
Near the end of Act 1 Rachel Kayhan deftly performs the role of Daria Chase, the snarky theater critic who has dirt on everyone – that is until the critic herself has a knife put in her back during a stormy and power blackout. Her monumental death struggle is ignored by the uncomprehending William Gilette who is joined moments later by Felix (Tom Hudgens ). When the two men finally realize what has happened – to avoid scandal – there’s a frantic debate about what to do with the body. Different locations are tried with no success. The process reaches a feverish intensity with arrival on the scene of the wacky Inspector Gorin (Pamela Ciochetti). It is all played at breakneck speed to great comic effect.
Isabell Grimm and Elliott Hanson are well cast as newlyweds Aggie Wheeler and Simon Bright – they may have something to hide – the former’s multi-millionaire husband died in a mysterious skiing accident, leaving his entire estate to her.
Sumi Narendran, who has performed in other RVP productions, gives a good performance as Madge Giesel, and Ellen Brooks as William’s mother Martha is fun to watch. She gradually reveals she’s not the nice little old lady she first appears to us.
The excellent costumes were designed by Michael Berg, and Malcolm Rogers created a great a set – with the first part onstage after a performance and the second part in 1936 Connecticut. Eugene DeChristopher assisted with the set construction. Ellen Brooks designed the wonderful lighting. The sound design quite aptly designed by Bruce Viera. Dyhanis Carniglia handled the Property Design and Scenic Art.
The entire production company is to be commended: Madge Grahn, Stage Manager, with Hannah Bloom assisting. Jayme Catalano was the graphic designer and did the marketing, and Karin Conn did the publicity.
THE GAME’S AFOOT began November 16 and runs through December 17, 2017. Regular performances are scheduled for Thursday 7:30 p.m., Friday 8:00 p.m., Saturday 8:00 p.m., and the final performance at the Sunday Matinee at 2:00 p.m. For tickets to this production, go online to www.rossvalleyplayers.com or call 800/838-9555, and tickets for School Groups, call 415/456-9555 extension 3. All performances take place at The Barn, home of the Ross Valley Players, Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross.
Photography by Gregg LaBlanc
Coming up next will be The Children’s Hour by Lillian Hellman from January 18 through February 1, 2018, and will be directed by Neiry Rojo.