The Booth Tarkington Civic Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot is an intentionally melodramatic and comedic who-done-it.
The show begins with the last scene of William Gillette’s play Sherlock Holmes, which he has been performing and living off for twenty years. During the curtain call, Gillette is shot, and thus, the game is afoot. Gillette hosts a Christmas weekend with his cast at his home, intending to take his role as Sherlock Holmes to a more literal level and discover who shot him.
Director Michael J. Lasley has the actors not just chew but devour the scenery as if it were a gluttonous buffet for velociraptors. (Tempting, as the set, designed by Ryan Koharchik, is lavish.) This and the physical comedy make for a light-hearted show about murder.
The choice piece of that scenery meat goes to the theater critic Daria Chase, played by Christine Kruze. Her stage time is limited compared to the other characters, but Kruze makes the most of it, strutting in her sense of entitlement and arrogantly gloating over her presumption of power over actors.
Josh Ramsey as Gillette captures the smugness of an actor who is quite pleased with himself yet thinks he is gracious due to his assumption that everyone agrees with his self-assessment. Ramsey never lets Gillette’s composure waver because Gillette’s confidence in his deductive abilities is rivaled only by Sherlock’s.
Jean Childers Arnold is a gem as the sharp-tongued Madge Geisel. Her performance in the séance scene is one of the most gratifying comedic parts of the show. Bill Book as Madge’s husband, Felix, approaches his role in a more straightforward manner than the other characters. Book portrays him as funny yet endearing and sincere. He does not shirk from the physical comedy though. He (bodily) throws himself in to shoving and shuffling a corpse around in his character’s ill-fated attempts at hiding it.
Alex Ray as Simon Bright believably comes across as an cheerful, naïve young man. His new wife, Aggie Wheeler, should also emit a sense of wide-eyed innocence, but Emily Hollowell just seems uncomfortable. However, when her character takes a turn, she seems to loosen up and embrace the role.
Carrie Ann Schlatter as Inspector Goring is congenial in her role and maintains an air of efficiency even though the character indulges in her admiration of the stage. Finally, Wendy Brown depicts Martha, Gillette’s mother, as a dotty, innocuous old woman.