Bob Goepfert Reveiws "The Game’s Afoot" At Home Made Theater
It’s usually a toss-up as to which genre is more popular with theater audiences – comedies or mysteries? Home Made Theater in Saratoga Springs is trying to appeal to both with its current production of “The Games Afoot.” It’s a comedy by Ken Ludwig that incorporates the plot of a mystery.
The result is an amusing piece of theater that makes for a pleasant February diversion. As is often the case with such hybrids it is difficult, if not impossible, to do full justice to the dual styles that are in the work. That’s true with this production which offers light-hearted entertainment without being totally satisfying.
As the title implies, “The Games Afoot” uses the character of Sherlock Holmes. However Holmes is a second-hand influence as the play which revolves about William Gillette, an actor who was almost as important as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in making the detective a pop icon. Gillette wrote and starred as Holmes in a play that incorporated pieces of Doyle’s stories. It was incredibly popular and toured the world from 1899-1932. It made him rich and famous.
The fictional story starts with a stage production of the play at which a mysterious sniper shoots and wounds Gillette during a curtain call. A few weeks later Gillette invites his cast to his lavish Connecticut castle for a Christmas celebration. Gillette’s older almost senile mother is there as well. A hated critic drops in later.
The first act is largely expositional. We discover the flaws of each character as the traits of jealousy along with revelations of adultery, past mysterious deaths and blackmail are offered as motives for the crime which is to follow. Ludwig wrote terrific comedies like “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” and “Leading Ladies,” so you can be sure there are many witty lines sprinkled throughout that are nicely delivered by the cast.
However, the act is slowly paced as it suffers from the low stakes in the drama. The segment plays more like melodrama than it does heightened comedy. It’s not until an actual murder takes place at the end of act one is there any tension to the story.
Once stakes are involved, the play takes on a new life and there are laugh-out-loud moments. Indeed, a hide–the-body scene is great physical comedy that is cleverly staged. The appearance of a local detective, who is an aspiring actress, adds an opportunity for humor and even conflict as Gillette usurps her authority when he assumes the persona of Holmes and attempts to solve the crime.
The cast is good as they create recognizable broad characters. But it would be more fun were they even bigger. Instead of urging the actors to find the over-the-type outrageousness of each person director Michael McDermott permits portrayals that are more droll than bold.
Indeed the performances that you remember are Brian Avery as Gillette, Ron De Lucia as his loyal friend Felix, who plays Moriarty on tour and Sara Paupini who plays the nasty critic. Not so coincidently, they are the actors who make the hide-the-body scene so successful.
It’s played on a very attractive set by Kevin Miller that includes several surprises. Lighting designer Kyle Van Sandt works too hard to create a dark and eerie mood creating a shadowy set that often obscures the action. Tom Moeller is unsuccessful in solving the horrible acoustics of SPAC’s Little Theater. I hate to say it, but it is past the time for the Home Made shows to be miked.
If you are seeking a diversion from the weather, politics, or just looking for two and a half hours of light fun, “The Game’s Afoot” plays weekends at Home Made Theater in Saratoga until February 26. For tickets and schedule information call 518-587-4427.
Bob Goepfert is theater reviewer for the Troy Record.
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