play

Every summer, we head over to the Brooke Hills Playhouse to see a play or musical or two. This year, we were able to see the last show of the season, which was The Game’s Afoot by Ken Ludwig. The play premiered at the Cleveland Playhouse in 2011 and won the Edgar Award in 2012 for Best Play.

It is December 1936 and Broadway star William Gillette, admired the world over for his leading role in the play Sherlock Holmes, has invited his fellow cast-members to his Connecticut castle for a weekend of revelry. But when one of the guests is stabbed to death, the festivities in this isolated house of tricks and mirrors quickly turn dangerous. Then it’s up to Gillette himself, as he assumes the persona of his beloved Holmes, to track down the killer before the next victim appears. The danger and hilarity are non-stop in this glittering whodunit set during the Christmas holidays.

It’s an enjoyable play, and the cast pulled it off well, especially for a local summer production. It’s really no surprise I liked it though, it’s a funny mystery with a Holmes connection. The dialogue is clever and the mystery actually pretty well-done. The audience was asked to take a guess at intermission as to who the killer was and I got it totally wrong. It’s a quirky, fun play.

I didn’t realize, however that the main character, William Gillette was based on a real actor who really did play Sherlock Holmes on stage. In the late 1890s, he actually adapted and starred in a play originally written by Conan Doyle. Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes consisted of four acts and combined elements from a variety of Doyle’s stories, including “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Final Problem”. However, with the exception of Holmes, Watson, Moriarty and Billy the Pageboy, all the other characters were his own creations. Different from the intellectual-only original, Gillette portrayed Holmes as brave and open to express his feelings. Gillette introduced the curved or bent briar pipe, instead of the straight pipe pictured by illustrators, maybe so Gillette’s face was easier to see from the seats. He also formulated the complete phrase: “Oh, this is elementary, my dear fellow,” which was later reused by Clive Brook, the first spoken-cinema Holmes, as: “Elementary, my dear Watson.”

The Game’s Afoot opens with a mini-play that, I have to assume, is Gillette’s Sherlock Holmes, or at least a parody of it. We are introduces first to Gillette as the star of the play when he is almost shot in the theater. It’s this shooting that leads to him having to convalesce at home and the resulting Christmas gathering. I like house party mysteries, and it worked well as a play too. You have a limited number of suspects all stuck with each other, in this case by the stereotypical winter storm. The cast is naturally small and there is minimal need for scene changes, which seems to help when the theater is small like Brooke Hills’ converted barn.

I’m looking forward to seeing what their 2015 schedule will be.

If you get a chance to see a production of The Game’s Afoot, you should go, it’s worth it. I don’t know that it’s exactly family friendly, but kids won’t get the jokes they shouldn’t anyway.