The Game’s Afoot -or- Holmes for the Holidays
Pierson Playhouse, Pacific Palisades, Friday 13 Nov. 2015
Reviewer Catherine Siggins
Ok folks, Halloween is over so it’s officially Christmas season and time to start getting yourselves merry. In the run up to the most festive time of year, Theatre Palisades is staging Ken Ludwig’s award-winning farce, The Game’s Afoot - or – Holmes for the Holidays, a clever murder mystery wrapped around a wise cracking comedy reminiscent of the golden age of Hollywood. Kind of like a gift -wrapped jack in the box. Thrilling and funny all at once.
The play is set in the lavish Connecticut castle of famous American matinee idol, writer, director, and innovator William Gillette, who found fame in his adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes mysteries and the first Holmes silent film shot in 1916. He created the persona of Sherlock Holmes as we know him today, with dear-stalker hat and curved pipe. Johnny Miller would not be starring in a TV series called Elementary had it not been for Mr. Gillette who coined the phrase, my dear Watson.
It’s Christmas, and Mr. Gillette has invited the cast of his production of Sherlock Holmes to his castle in order to uncover the culprit who tried to shoot him on their closing night performance; his ego bruised far more then anything; believing that if he can play the great Mr. Holmes onstage then he must have his talents for detective work. Unfortunately, he and his houseguests find themselves with a dead body on their hands, and the threat of incarceration when a police Inspector, who harbors theatrical aspirations of her own, decides to call, in true whodunit fashion.
Ken Ludwig’s play is a zinger, full of cracking dialogue and slapstick. Under the direction of Gene Franklin Smith, who brought us the fantastic production of The Vortex last year, the cast navigates the perfect balanced between sophisticated comedy and full blown outrageous horseplay, which takes place in set designer Sherman Wayne’s nicely created drawing room. Full of moving scenery and props it makes for a visual spectacle, aided by June Lissandrello’s effective costumes design, and Susan Stangl’s sound design. The whole production team has it’s work cut out, as there are lots of moving parts and timing is everything in this production as you will see.
The play starts with the final scene of Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes play, played at full throttle, which sets the tone for the dastardly high jinks that are to follow. John Mawson plays the hero, William Gillete, with tones of Basil Fawlty, which suits his statuesque physique. There is some excellent physical work by Matthew Godfrey as Simon Bright, complete with Errol Flynn moustache, and Nicole Knudsen is perfect as his charming young wife Aggie Wheeler, an ingénue who seems to collect admirers. Andi Wagner and James Lujan as thespian husband and wife team, Madge and Felix Geisel, bounce wonderfully off each other. Maria Pavone lets rip a little too much as nasty theatre critic, Daria Chase, but it is her physical comedy in Act 2 that brings big laughs. Gail Bernardi is reminiscent of Granny in the Tweety Pie cartoons, sweet, seemingly harmless but lethal. She has some of the funniest lines. Dotty, distracted, Inspector Goring is brought to life by Maggie Peach. The ensemble cast on the whole give strong performances.
It is safe to say, if you are a fan of Faulty Towers, or the 1985 film comedy Clue, this production will be right up your alley. Happy Holidays!
Shows 8pm Friday, Saturday and 2pm Sunday till 13 December.
Get your tickets here