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Regional Reviews: Cleveland & Akron

The Game's Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays)

The opening of a new play by Ken Ludwig should attract national attention. The new play is The Game's Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays) and this is the Ken Ludwig who wrote Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, Shakespeare in Hollywood, Leading Ladies, Crazy for You, and many more. The Cleveland Playhouse is offering this gem of a production November 25 through December 24, 2011.

The story is set in the Connecticut castle of William Gillette, who won his reputation as an actor who played, for the most part, a Sherlock Holmes script, which he and Arthur Conan Doyle co-wrote. Some of Gillette's critics said that he destroyed his career by not playing a variety of roles. Gillette is the only historically real person in the script. The other characters are fictional.

Gillette often invited members of his acting company to his castle for the weekend or for a holiday. That's the setting and circumstances of this script. The snow is falling outside and has reached a depth that makes it impossible to get to the castle or leave. The guest list includes Felix Geisel (Eric Hissom) and his wife, Madge (Lise Bruneau); a young ingénue, Aggie Wheeler (Mattie Hawkinson) and her husband, Simon Bright (Rob McClure); Gillette's mother, Martha (Patricia Kilgarriff); and a theater critic, Daria Chase (Erika Rolfsrud).

Of course, someone is murdered. Quickly we realize the snowstorm kept anyone from entering the castle. So, the murderer is one of the party guests. And, in truth, it's a small party. Gillette, who has played Sherlock Holmes, takes it upon himself to solve the crime. Gillette is better at playing Sherlock Holmes than he is at solving crimes. Despite the snow storm, Inspector Harriet Goring (Sarah Day) manages to arrive at the castle and start the investigation.

Gillette seems to think he has the powers of Sherlock Holmes and attempts to solve the mystery. He and Goring compete for clues that might identify the murderer. In one humorous scene, Gillette and Goring stand side-by-side facing the audience and duplicate each other's movements. For example, Gillette places the Holmes' pipe in his mouth. Goring watches this and places the ear-piece of her glasses in her mouth. Of course, they duplicate each other's posture; this is difficult—he's tall and lean and she's short and stocky. Yet, the humor reaches the audience.

Agatha Christie wrote that in a good murder mystery suspicion must fall on each character in his/her turn. Ludwig follows Christie's dictum and leads the audience on a merry chase to find the killer. In fact, at one point Gillette comments to Inspector Goring that she might be the killer.

Murder and mayhem give this talented cast an opportunity to pull out all of the stops and let the audience know how much fun a good murder mystery can be.

This is a superb cast making its way through a new script. In fact, in an after performance talk back with some audience members, one of the cast told us he'd been emailed two new lines today.

Let there be no mystery, Daniel Conway (scenic designer) has created one of the most impressive sets to be seen on any stage. The castle extends to two-stories in height, with impressive stone walls and a large commanding stairway. Conway visited Gillette's castle and based all of the doors on the set on a door in the castle. When the curtain went up on the castle set, the audience immediately broke into long, loud applause.

Aaron Posner (director) has captured the Ken Ludwig madcap style and spirit. He lets no comedic moment go by without giving the audience an opportunity to laugh. And the audience does laugh.

What happens next? The Game's Afoot will be performed by professional and community theaters across the country. Certainly this production is Broadway quality. But, will the cast, director and playwright have that opportunity?

No mystery is afoot about the Cleveland Playhouse's next productions: Ten Chimneys (January 13 - February 5, 2012; Radio Golf (February 10-March 4); Red (March 16-April 8, 2012); and In the Next Room or the Vibrator Play (April 13-May 6, 2012).

The Game's Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays) By Ken Ludwig, at The Allen Theatre, The Cleveland Play House, through December 24, 2011. Ticket Information: 216-795-7000, ext. 4, or visit

Felix Geisel/Moriarty: Eric Hissom
William Gillette/Holmes: Donald Sage MacKay
Aggie Wheeler/Alice: Mattie Hawkinson
Madge Geisel/Marian: Lise Bruneau
Simon Bright/Count Zerlinsky: Rob McClure
Martha Gillette: Patricia Kilgarriff
Daria Chase: Erika Rolfsrud
Inspector Harriet Goring: Sarah Day
Director: Aaron Posner
Scenic Designer: Daniel Conway
Costume Designer: Linda Roethke
Lighting Designer: Thom Weaver
Sound Designer: James C. Swonger

- David Ritchey

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