‘The Game’s Afoot; or Holmes for the Holidays” is Off-Broadstreet Theater’s way of celebrating the holiday season without falling back on the “Christmas Carol” or “The Nutcracker.”
Written by Ken Ludwig, who has had his work performed in more than 30 countries and has won a most impressive array of prizes, “The Game’s Afoot” opened two years ago in a production by the Cleveland Play House and garnered Ludwig the Mystery Writers of America’s Edgar Allen Poe Award as the Best Mystery Play of 2012.
The play starts with an ending of another and a curtain call where William Gillette, an actor playing Sherlock Holmes, is shot in the arm. Gillette — as Sherlock Holmes aficionados know — is an actual Broadway actor who developed an international reputation for his work portraying Holmes.
The action then moves to Gillette’s luxurious home (called a mansion in the program and a Connecticut castle in press materials) and the mystery starts.
It is December, 1936, and Gillette, on sick leave, has invited his fellow cast members (and, surprisingly, a critic whom nobody has any use for) to his house for a weekend of holiday partying. When one of the guests is stabbed to death at the end of act one, Gillette assumes in real life the role he has so often played on stage to find the perpetrator. The partying goes on, but as Gillette tries to get to the bottom of the mystery, the entanglements past and present pile up, and it’s not just the characters who are frequently stymied as to the significance of the events.
The troupe of actors is like family, with a variety of surprising interconnections. Their conversation is peppered with quotations, from Shakespeare in particular, and they have made a sport of competitive quoting. The cast playing the cast does a fine job of keeping the audience in suspense while making sure it’s clear that everything will eventually work out.
All but one is an OBT veteran. William Gillette is played by Steve Decker, whom Off-Broadstreet regulars may remember from “Moving Mountains” or from his work as a competitor to William Gillette when he played Sherlock Holmes in Princeton-based playwright Marvin Cheiten’s “The Golden Spy” and “A World at War.” Virginia Barrie takes on the role of his doting mother, Martha, her sixth role with OBT; she was previously seen at the theater in the above mentioned Sherlock Holmes plays and “Savannah Disputation.” Barry Abramowitz, most recently seen in Hopewell in “The Costume Ball” and “Curtains,” plays Felix Geisel, Gillette’s long-time friend and another member of the troupe (he also plays Professor Moriarty in the play within the play). His wife, Madge, is played by Lauren Suchenski, the one newcomer in this cast of eight.
Simon Bright, the troupe’s young romantic lead, is performed by John Bergeron, who has appeared in OBT’s “Peg O’ My Heart,” “I Love You Because,” “There’s a Burglar in My Bed,” and “The Wildest,” and serves off stage as Off-Broadstreet’s house manager. Tappany Hochman takes on Aggie Wheeler; earlier this season she was the lead in “Violet Sharp” and has appeared at OBT’s “Spelling Bee,” “Little Shop of Horrors,” “and “Soup De Jour.” Kathy Garofano, Inspector Goring here, appeared at OBT in “Peg O’ My Heart” and “Broadway Bound.” Finally, Daria Chase, the critic whom everybody dislikes, is played by Wendy Yazujian, her eighth role at OBT.
The names of the designer and the director will also be familiar to OBT regulars. Robert and Julie Thick are the producers, and Bob Thick is also responsible for the direction and the design of all aspects of the production except the costumes. It is interesting to see how he has conveyed the sense of the interior of a very large house within the same boundaries he is always working with. The costume design is the work of Ann Raymond, and as OBT regulars have come to expect, the costumes do their job. As do the sets.
The Game’s Afoot, Off-Broadstreet Theater, 5 South Greenwood Avenue, Hopewell. Through Saturday, December 14, Friday and Saturdays, 8 p.m., Sundays, 2:30 p.m. Desserts served an hour before show, $27 to $31.50. 609-466-2766 or www.off-broadstreet.com.