"The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays" at Players Guild @ Sugar Hill, November 8-17, 2019
Title: Hams for the Holidays
"The Game’s Afoot" is not the sort of raucous comedy that Ken Ludwig is known for. There certainly are comic bits, but the genre is more akin to a murder mystery, with multiple murders and motives swirling through the cast. The cast includes William Gillette (Paul Ryden), wounded onstage by an audience member while playing Sherlock Holmes; his mother (Sandra Hughes); long-time married co-stars Felix and Madge Geisel (Jerry Jobe and Vicky Ryden); recently married co-stars Aggie Wheeler (Ashley Cahill) and Simon Bright (Michael Crocker); and theatre critic and gossip Daria Chase (Hilary Pingle). The second act introduces an inspector (Amanda Cirilli) as the mystery is brought to a conclusion.
The show starts off with a melodramatic scene from "Sherlock Holmes" in which Gillette is shot. The over-the-top acting would seem to be a comic tribute to the old-fashioned style of a show that had been touring for decades. Alas, that is not entirely the case. In too many instances, Pam Duncan’s direction has actors stand stock-still facing the audience to deliver their lines. There’s not much difference in the acting of "Sherlock Holmes" and of the supposed real-life scenes in 1936. Blocking is often clunky too, with clumps of actors obscuring one another.
The real-life scenes start out drily, with actors quoting Shakespeare. That’s an indication of the pace of the show, which too rarely picks up steam. There’s some physical comedy involving hiding a corpse and an ongoing gag involving spelling over the telephone, but none of the characters are truly engaging, and the resolution of the mystery is done largely through exposition, with one final twist adding a bit of interest. The play itself isn’t up to par for Ludwig, and the production isn’t up to par for Sugar Hill.
The set, designed by Terry Mulligan, has a nice hidden feature and some nice furniture, but does not suggest an elegant castle-like house. There are no baseboards and no molding, so the space looks unfinished. The large artificial Christmas tree upstage is decorated in modern fashion. Costumes do a better job of suggesting the 1936 time period, featuring Ashley Cahill’s beautiful art deco gown, but Michael Crocker’s suit is oversized for his frame.
David Lawler’s lights and Isaac St. Laurent’s sound are good. They do a fine job of suggesting stormy weather and setting the mood for a séance. I only wish that the lovely chandelier center stage were illuminated to add a bit of class to the setting.
Acting seems assured, but there’s not a true ensemble feeling to the proceedings. Ms. Hughes in particular seems to be acting in a world of her own. Standouts are the Rydens (married couple Paul and Vicky, who do not play spouses in the show), but all the cast fill their roles ably. They seem to have been let down by their director, who hasn’t inspired them to be at the top of their game for this show or to create a cohesive 1936 atmosphere that would make the less-than-engrossing play come to life.