Reviewed by Kathleen Kirby
There was a lot to like Thursday evening as Flint Community Players opened a rollicking Ken Ludwig comedy/mystery, The Game’s Afoot. The house wasn’t full but in response to director Sam Di Vita’s inventive staging, they were loud and appreciative, laughing and applauding everything from the quirky characters to the scenic surprises.
The time is 1936 and it all begins with the final moments of a play where actor William Gillette (Matt Hudson) as the character Sherlock Holmes is the victim of a gunshot. Hudson is an impressive Holmes/Gillette. He is tall and imposing yet sets an unpredictable tone that serves to keep the rest on their toes.
The story then moves quickly to the drawing room of Gillette’s marvelous Connecticut mansion. (Kudos to Jesse Glenn for this design!) It’s Christmas Eve and the cast of the ill-fated play is gathering to both celebrate and commiserate with Gillette. Perhaps one of the strongest characters (if there is a strongest in this show – they are all strong!) may be Gillette’s mother, Martha (Ann Oravetz). Her affected attitude is comedically superb and her genteel air is perfectly tinged with snobbery.
As the guests arrive, Gillette enjoys showing off his collection of weapons that hang on the walls – everything from guns, knives and daggers to broadswords – but most of all his secret room. This bit drew well-deserved applause!
Felix and Madge Geisel (Ron Barrett and Terrie Harris) may be the most “normal” of the bunch but still exhibit terrific comic timing as this scrappy theatrical couple. Next, Simon Bright (Steve Visser) and Aggie Wheeler (Tomoko Miller) arrive and promptly announce that they are married, a revelation that seems to unsettle almost everyone. Visser’s comedic timing and mobile face works well in this show, and Miller’s ingénue innocence contrasts nicely with her often less than blameless behavior.
Finally, and coming as a surprise, Gillette has invited another guest. Daria Chase (Kim Barrett) is a columnist and theatre critic who has been less than cordial in her column where most of these guests are concerned. Barrett plays this pushy gal to the hilt giving just about everyone a motive to do away with her.
Did we say that it’s a dark and stormy night? Of course, it is and during one blackout as the lightening flashes, poor Daria is stabbed in the back! Since no one is prowling around in that snowy storm outside, the murderer must be in the house.
Gillette calls the police, but when Inspector Goring (Sandy Mascow) an Agatha Christie-style female detective shows up, he assumes his Holmes character (complete with smoking jacket and pipe) and sets out to solve the crime Sherlock style. Mascow is terrific as this slightly starry-eyed yet stodgy peace officer. She manages a fine comic line between professionalism and adulation as she works to solve the crime in spite of Gillette’s interference.
We won’t give away the ending of this wonderful whodunit – you’ll have to go see that for yourself. We will urge folks to get out to see this one. It has everything that might perk up your spirits here in the deep of winter – lots of laughs, clues to a puzzling crime, a technically topnotch and fast-paced performance, a memorable setting and a talented ensemble of performers.
The Game’s Afoot continues at Flint Community Players’ Tom & Bea Nobles Performance Hall, 2462 S. Ballenger Hwy. Flint 48507, through February 8. For tickets and more information contact the box office at 810-235-6963 or online at www.flintcommunityplayers.com