The Game’s Afoot – Review by Don Church and Tony Schillaci

A madcap comic caper has arrived on the stage at the Ivoryton Playhouse with Ken Ludwig’s wacky murder mystery The Game’s Afoot. The talented cast has taken its cue from Playhouse Artistic Director Jacqueline Hubbard, as each actor blithely chews up the scenery, hams up the lines, and generally has a good time emulating the dated outrageous acting techniques of the 1930’s. Hubbard’s deft direction makes for fast-paced action in this outrageous comedy.

This is a fun night in the theater, designed to be taken tongue-in-cheek, laughed at and enjoyed, leaving all worries and problems outside of the historic playhouse. And, when it comes to set design, the comedy takes place in a brilliantly designed and built replica of the great room in Connecticut’s own historic Gillette Castle – thanks to Scenic Designer Daniel Nischan and his masterfully brilliant crew of builders and carpenters.

William Gillette, the legendary actor and playwright who brought his interpretation of Sherlock Holmes to the New York stage, is played by Craig MacDonald with the theatrical hysteria so prevalent in days gone by. Mr. MacDonald emulates a thespian of the most dramatic order. Playing to the last row of the balcony, his dramatically exaggerated gestures and vocal gymnastics are what would be expected of Mr. Gillette himself.

As Gillette’s dotty mother Martha, teetering on senility, Maggie McGlone-Jennings, gives a performance bordering on sheer madness. Mama Gillette is not happy that son William has invited a gaggle of actors to the castle for the 1936 Christmas holiday, especially since their butler has been given time off and she will have to do most of the serving herself. Her indomitable presence is felt keenly by all the invited guests – she sarcastically competes with the females and flirts coquettishly with the males, all the while doting on her adored son.

An attractive young acting couple from Gillette’s stock company, Aggie and Simon (Molly Densmore and Erik Bloomquist) sweep onto the scene with giddy sophistication and blatant charm. Ms. Densmore plays the beautiful ingénue with a lovely innocence, while Mr. Bloomquist perfectly acts the quintessential matinee idol: bored, blasé, ’prettier than thou’ and obviously a cad. Dressed to the nines, they are the perfect couple. Could he be a murderer? Could she?

Katrina Ferguson as Madge and Michael Iannucci as her husband Felix are the older married duo come to the castle for the holiday celebration. They, too, are actors, and Felix professes to be Gillette’s best friend – although they seldom agree on anything, and often compete ferociously. Ms. Ferguson convinces us that she is the epitome of a glamourous leading lady of the Broadway stage of 90 years ago. Her character delights at the absurdity of their weekend in in Gillette’s enormous and eccentric castle. Mr. Iannucci’s time to shine comes in the second act, with a murderously funny game of hide and seek (a dead body, that is). He’s all over the stage in a frantic effort to keep things hidden from an investigating police woman.

That woman, Inspector Goring, is summoned to the castle in error, but proceeds to try to deduce who is who and what crimes have been perpetrated, with little help from the weekend guests. Victoria Bundonis plays the practical-yet-star struck inspector who has a fuff-fuff English accent, although she is intended to be with the Middlesex County Connecticut police! Another nutty way that this comedy is all about things that are not as they seem, nor do we want them to be. Could the erstwhile English lady inspector be a homicidal maniac from Newcastle or a Midsomer murderer?

The final guest to arrive at the house party weekend is gossip reporter and theater critic Daria Chase. She is hated by every assembled guest for having reviled them viciously in her newspaper column. Without a doubt, Beverley J Taylor as Daria gives a tour de force performance in this mad comedy. From the moment she appears, in a perfect wig by Elizabeth Cipollina, all eyes, on stage and in the audience, are upon her. The eyes of the on-stage characters have daggers in them. Ms. Taylor, as Daria, commands the stage with the grace of a swan, and delivers each line with a honeyed drop of venomous poison.

Twists, turns, misdirection, smoke, mirrors, gadgets and unexpected revelations pepper this looney whodunit.

With lighting design by Marcus Abbott, sound by Tate R. Burmeister and costume design by Kathleen T. Gephart, this team creates the illusion that we are inside the castle on a stormy snowy night in the first third of the past century. Stage manager Laura Lynne Knowles keeps all weapons of mass destruction in their proper places. For the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving, this perfectly insane comedy is in the appropriately antique theater. Please don’t reveal the victim, the killer, or the ending. That would be telling!
Get a ticket for yourself and round up your best party friends for the maddest, funniest, who- done-it house party in a castle high above the Connecticut River.

The Game’s Afoot runs through November 19th, 2017. Performance times are Wednesday and Sunday matinees at 2 pm. Evening performances are Wednesday and Thursday at 7:30pm, Friday and Saturday at 8pm.

Tickets are $50 for adults; $45 for seniors; $22 for students and $17 for children and are available by calling the Playhouse box office at 860-767-7318 or by visiting www.ivorytonplayhouse.org (Group rates are available by calling the box office for information.) The Playhouse is located at 103 Main Street in Ivoryton, Connecticut.

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