The Game’s Afoot Review – Holmes for the Holidays

Patrick Skelton, Michele Schultz, and Nei Thompson in THE GAME'S AFOOT - Photo by Doug Engalla
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Sherlock Holmes and Christmas? Is there any connection? By stretching its creative imagination, the Group Rep has managed to turn a mystery farce into holiday cheer. After all, what better way to enjoy the holidays than with some merry laughter to light up the tree? So keep the eggnog coming, sit back, and enjoy playwright Ken Ludwig’s tale of stealth, murder, clue-searching, and world-class detecting. Ludwig is known for his clever, upbeat comedies like “Lend Me a Tenor” and THE GAME’S AFOOT, which premiered in 2011 and won the 2012 prestigious Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Mystery of the Year.

Susan Priver and Neil Thompson – Photo by Doug Engalla

‘Tis a dark and dreary eve at Castle Gillette, the palatial home of actor William Gillette (Neil Thompson), best known for his stage portrayal of ace detective Sherlock Holmes, a man he has come to admire – and even emulate. By the way, for you lovers of trivia, Gillette really was a star of the American stage during the early part of the twentieth century and wrote a play entitled “Sherlock Homes” in collaboration with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, no slouch himself in the creation of the perfect sleuth. In any case, Gillette and his elderly mother Martha (Clara Rodriguez) are throwing a little party for the co-stars in his most recent play, a play which culminated with Gillette being shot in the arm during curtain calls following a murder earlier the same evening in the theater. He’s invited old friends Felix and Madge Geisel (Patrick Skelton and Barbara Brownell), Simon Bright and Aggie Wheeler (Todd Andrew Bell and Sascha Vanderslik), and theater critic Daria Chase (Susan Priver). It doesn’t take long to figure out that Gillette has slipped into his Sherlock Holmes persona and is determined to seek out the perpetrator of evil deeds. And seek he does with hilarious results.

Neil Thompson, Barbara Brownell, and Patrick Skelton – Photo by Doug Engalla

THE GAME’S AFOOT is a clever satire cum farce about everybody’s favorite detective, a comic venture guaranteed to tickle both your funny bone and your imagination as it twists and turns during a nearly perfect crime – or two. Director Larry Eisenberg does a superb job of keeping the action rolling fast and furious as dead ends begin to pile up (both literally and figuratively). And Eisenberg also manages to keep the chuckles flowing in this excellent farce. The talented cast has a keen eye for timing and pratfalls as they navigate the mysterious Ludwig maze. Special kudos to Clara Rodriguez, who plays Gillette’s addled mother, and Michele Schultz, the perfect Inspector Coring, who shows up to unravel the tangled mess and make sure that the confused and amused audience knows whodunit.

Neil Thompson and Patrick Skelton – Photo by Doug Engalla

But, lo, there is another major character who deserves fitting praise. We must congratulate the mystery’s setting. Chris Winfield’s set is beyond clever – just creepy enough to make a Holmes mystery come alive – and, at the same time, sufficiently creative to deliver the requisite sliding door to reveal a secret room. And let’s not forget the other clandestine technology that Homes/Gillette/Thompson has installed in his elegant abode. THE GAME’S AFOOT wouldn’t be the same without Douglas Gabrielle’s lighting design (which plays another major role in the story), Angela M. Eads’ costumes, Judi Lewin’s hair and makeup design, Steve Shaw’s sound, Kyra Schwartz’s props, and Marc Antonio Pritchett’s fight choreography. It really does take a village to raise a play. For an engrossing and entertaining evening, don’t forget that THE GAME’S AFOOT.

THE GAME’S AFOOT runs through January 2, 2022, with performances at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays and at 2 p.m. on Sundays (added show on Thursday 12/24 at 8 p.m.; dark Friday 12/25). The Lonny Chapman Theatre is located at 10900 Burbank Blvd., North Hollywood, CA 91601. Tickets are $30 (seniors and students $25; parties 10+ $20). For information and reservations, call 818-763-5990 or go online.


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