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"The Game's Afoot" at TheatreWorks New Milford

By Kathleen Mosel, The OnStage Critics Circle


"The Game's Afoot" got mixed reviews in its original production. Some critics said it was incredibly suspenseful. Others said it was absolutely hilarious. Personally, I think it's equal parts murder mystery and farce. The production, which opened at Theatreworks New Milford this weekend, is fast-paced and pokes merciless fun at the egotistical theater people but at the same time it delivers gasp-inducing plot twists and genuine intrigue.

Its main character is William Gillette (Charles Schoenfeld), a real-life person who was the foremost American actor of his day, around the turn of the 20th century. He made a career out of adapting Arthur Conan Doyle's novels for the stage and portraying Sherlock Holmes.

Gillette became very wealthy and built a mansion in Connecticut called Gillette Castle that still stands. Playwright Ken Ludwig transports Gillette in his prime from Victorian times to the 1930s. Gillette in the play has been shot and wounded in the last scene of a Sherlock Holmes play, and then invites his co-stars to his mansion while he recuperates.

One of them is murdered, and one of the other guests has to be the murderer. Thus the whodunit aspect of the play, led by an ersatz Sherlock Holmes, begins.

Mr. Schoenfeld is perfectly cast as grandiose actor Gillette, who along with his mother Martha – played in a lively and highly entertaining turn by Mary Wilson. Frank Arcaro and the lovely MJ Hartell join the fun as Felix and Madge Geisel, providing much of the comedy.

Reesa Roccapriore and James Hipp provide two very expansive characterizations as young newlyweds, Aggie Wheeler and Simon Bright. Robyn Maitland handles all the many facets of despicable critic Daria with such polish, one might think the role was written just for her. Janice Connor joins the excellent group in act two with her effervescent portrayal of Inspector Goring, a Holmes devotee who arrives rather unexpectedly to help untangle the farce-induced havoc.

With such an outstanding and well-directed cast, led by Glenn R. Couture, the onstage activity proceeds with crisp comedic precision. Mr. Couture's direction gives the actors all they need to flaunt their stuff to full effect.

Elegant costumes by Susan Aziz give this play, set in 1936, a shimmering stylishness despite the mayhem. The set design (Richard Pettibone, Scott Wyshynski, Glenn R. Couture) captures the essence of the castle with its "hidden" panel, multiple doors and various surprises. Lighting and sound (Nathan Schoonover, Tom Libonate, Richard Pettibone, Scott Wyshynski) are essential to the timing of any mystery and the design for this piece is very well executed.

The Game's Afoot" is no pastiche or spoof, which tend to make fun of the subject it pretends to adore. This play pays genuine homage to the murder mystery genre in the best way this playwright knows how: by making it funny.

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