The world loves a good murder mystery. So it was in 1936 when Ken Ludwig’s comedy-thriller “The Game’s Afoot” is set, and so it is today.
Garrison Little Theatre presents Ludwig’s slapstick murder mystery as a fun game – lampooning actors like William Gillette alongside 1930s melodramas and the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie.
“The Game’s Afoot” opens on a play within a play. William Gillette (Chuck Jagiello) is shot while performing one of his popular Sherlock Holmes play. Weeks later, at Christmas, he invites his fellow castmates and renowned critic Daria Chase (Carole Ferriday) to his lavish countryside mansion in Connecticut for the holiday. Gillette, as in any good mystery, has an ulterior motive. His shooting, he’s discovered, was part of a larger plot; a friend of theirs, a stagehand, has also been murdered. Gillette has staged the gathering hoping to solve the murder.
Jagiello plays Gillette and his version of Holmes as properly pompous and arrogant, but not without his wits. As Gillette leads the investigation, it’s clear that the 15 years he’d spent playing Holmes – a neat true-to-history footnote – had rubbed off on him. Gillette has developed quite a sense of deduction. Gillette’s confidence is ably pitted against the rest of his actor friends, who all take some part in his schemes to solve the case.
Daria Chase, the reviled critic who’s called all the guests’ abysmal names in her reviews – usually in relation to cuts of meat – leads a seance to speak with the dead stagehand. Chase is mocked and derided by the actors, but the seance has an appropriately comic conclusion.
The later appearance of a sweet but incompetent Scotland Yard detective, wonderfully played by Catherine Kitchen, nearly sends Gillette’s plans completely awry.
GLT has a lot of fun with “The Game’s Afoot.” The set design is strikingly detailed. The walls of Gillette’s mansion are blood red and covered with weapons of all kinds which is to be expected, perhaps, of a Holmes fan, and make the perfect setting to over analyze a murder.
Though Ludwig’s story takes some time to set things up – perhaps he thought a little too much of exposition – GLT pushes through the impressive and dense dialogue to deliver howling laughs in good time. Jagiello and Deelen, in particular, deliver a notable physical comedy routine in the second act that is worth the admission alone.
Likewise, once the truth of the murder is revealed some genuinely menacing performances emerge. There’s a lot of fun to be had with these outlandish and bawdy characters – when Ludwig allows it.
Between red herrings and red walls, mystery blends well with comedy in GLT’s “The Game’s Afoot.”
Catch Garrison Little Theatre’s production of “The Game’s Afoot” until Feb. 23.