Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Faulkner: "The Game's Afoot"

Ken Ludwig, best known for the hilarious farce Lend Me a Tenor, only last year penned The Game's Afoot: or, Holmes for the Holidays, a witty, sophisticated, comedy-thriller-whodunnit now on the Faulkner University Dinner Theatre stage, directed by Jason Clark South.

In it, actor William Gillette [Brandtley McDonald] invites members of his acting company to a Christmas Eve party, but with an ulterior motive: to find out the identity of the person who shot him at the end of a recent performance. (The actual Gillette wrote the play Sherlock Holmes and starred in it on Broadway for several years in the last century, amassing a fortune that he used to build a stone fortress in Connecticut that he equipped with secret passageways, hidden rooms, an early intercom system, remote controls, and many other devices that have become the stock-in-trade of murder mysteries.)

The house is the perfect place for a murder, so when the guests -- including an acerbic theatre critic who has written scathing reviews of most of the actors in the company -- arrive, and with actors engaging in histrionic one-upmanship by quoting Shakespeare, the scene is conveniently set.

Filled as it is with red-herrings typical of the murder mystery genre, there are numerous plot twists and unexpected revelations right to the end of the play's two acts.

Characters are broadly drawn, their stereotypes necessitating a fast-paced flair in comic timing and line-delivery, clear speech, and absolute confidence in presenting them without affectation; and while there is significant effort evidenced on stage, there is much unevenness in the company who often resort to cacophonous shouting matches, self-indulgent posing, and a slow pace.

Most successful, however, are the aforementioned Mr. McDonald as Gillette, whose rich voice and commanding presence are on show; Jesse Alston as Daria Chase, the "critic you love to hate" who oozes contempt for all others around her; Brittney Johnston as Aggie Wheeler continually surprises us with her changes in demeanor, so that we can hardly pin her character down; and Madyson Greenwood as Gillette's mother Martha, whose welcome return to the Faulkner stage exhibits confidence, comfort in her role, and an ability to sustain interest by intelligent and subtle shifts of tone and manner -- a sophisticated portrayal.

There is a certain amount of audience involvement, as we are meant to try to figure out the identity of the murderer along with Gillette, so we are kept on our toes throughout...with a few good laughs along the way.