No opening night jitters were present on Friday night, March 22, as the Granite Theatre did a wonderful job with their crowd-pleasing season-opening premiere of Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot. Coming in at slightly over two hours, with about a fifteen minute intermission between the two acts, the show is a tinge longer in run time than most Granite offerings, so if you plan on attending, please note the earlier than usual 7:30pm start time.
You won’t want to miss the opening “play within a play” that finds 1936 Broadway Star William Gillette in his favorite role as Sherlock Holmes at the tail end of solving a crime. As the show ends in this play within a play, Gillette and his co-stars take their deep bows. However, as their show is ending, our show is just beginning, as Gillette is shot from an audience member (no actual or stage firearms are used for this scenario).
In the next scene, we discover Gillette has survived the shooting to tell the tale, and is recovering quite nicely in the tremendous estate he shares with his mother and several servants in rural Connecticut, although becoming a little obsessed with figuring out who shot him and what their motivations might be are, exactly.
Towards that end, Gillette has invited his co-stars over to his home to spend Christmas Eve, his thought being one or more of them will be able to provide a clue to whom his assailant was. Indeed, as is a recurring notation from his friends, William is beginning to let this Sherlock Holmes “character” manifest itself a bit too seriously into his psyche.
Marcus J. Fisk as Gillette (and Gillette as Holmes) plays Afoot’s lead role with great timing and certainly has the right look for the part, although I would dare to remark that his interpretation could be enhanced were he to dabble in a bit more of eccentricity. No matter, because Fisk’s mother (played with an appropriate dour ‘mother hen’ appeal by Judy George) and his theatre friends all add more than enough ingredients for a flavorful stew of theatrics.
Felix Geisel (played with an every-man charm by Marc Vakassian) and Madge Geisel (robustly played by a game Lee Rush) are a middle-aged theater couple who have some skeletons in the closet that will emerge as the night goes on. Meanwhile, the swarmy Simon Bright (well played by Warren Usey) and his tortured ingenue bride Aggie Wheeler (a well-cast Chelsea Ordner who has good comedic timing) are just beginning their lives together, in the shadows of the death of the man who was originally supposed to be Aggie’s husband (the suspicious nature of who’s death come into play in Act II).
In addition to that wrinkle, his collection of theatre chums don’t realize, until several minutes after they arrive, is that Gillette has also invited New York’s harshest theater critic/ gossip columnist Daria Chase, to join them for the festivities as well. Having criticized the acting talents or personal character traits of virtually everyone in the room, the inclusion of Ms. Chase brings on a chorus of well-humored fears and angst from all present.
Upon entry, Ms. Chase becomes the life of the party for the audience and the death of it for her fellow guests, reminding them all quite well, why they hate her in the first place. Paula Glen, a Granite regular, terrifically owns this role, eliciting layers of both laughs and groans from the audience, until finally, well, one can’t be blamed for truly hating her manipulative, earth-scorching character. No spoilers here, but kudos to Ms. Chase for leaving a lasting impression with her powerhouse performance, which includes her capable handling some of the hardest tasks imaginable to any actor.
In Act Two, we meet a new character, Inspector Goring, played with a juicy delight by Karen Gail Kessler. Now, the addition of an investigator might seem to imply that some type of criminal or sketchy situation has taken place of some sort has occurred in Act One, which would necessitate her arrival. Again, no spoilers from me on this one, but suffice to say that there is enough door swinging and double takes to sufficiently keep most audiences amused throughout the duration of this crowd pleasing show.
Director Vincent Lupino and Stage Manager Steve Spartano have this show finely tuned and the set decoration, usually a marvel at Granite, really exceeds its usually high standards with this show.
The cast was a true delight and were ready for the enthusiastic, near sell-out crowd.
Performances run through April 7.