Review: Murder & laughter co-star in City Lights’ ‘Game’s Afoot’

The errant knaves who occupy the grand living room of William Gillette, an actual star of stage and screen, love to deep-dive into their own pedanticism. William Shakespeare’s multitude of transformative quotes are on this gathering’s agenda, provided by the guests who attempt desperately to out-Hamlet each other. It’s as if there are prizes for those who can quote the bard faster and more often than the other.

City Lights Theater Company’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot; Or Holmes for the Holidays,” in which a party at the actor’s castle becomes its own murder mystery, holds its own in the comic genre, delving into three distinct subtexts. Murder, mystery and madcap mayhem are all brought forth with shimmering glee within director Mark Anderson Phillips’ purposeful staging.

Ludwig’s script meanders too much inside a first act which establishes the sometimes predictable rigor of a tighter and funnier Act 2. Within Phillips’ direction of a cast not always fully balanced nor always on point when it comes to comic timing, plenty of entertaining and committed performances allow for an engaging evening of murderous motifs.

The opening moments of the play allow for Gillette (Damian Vega) to show his acting skills in a melodramatic moment as he brings home the finality of a play within the play. The curtain call offered quite the twist in the form of a shooting in which William is a victim. His response to this near-tragedy is to gather his band of merry friends to his Connecticut castle for a weekend of revelry. Yet when an actual murder takes place, William must bring to life a real version of his oft-portrayed Detective Sherlock Holmes.

Gillette is a dashing host, a foppish gent who is up for the task — actor and character don’t skew terribly different. His house isn’t just a house, but an all-out fantastical paradise. Candles reveal secret studies, windows are often imbued with scary surprises. Even the technology of 1936, with these remote control thingies that don’t possess a single wire turn the most quotidian of tasks into memorable adventures.

A bastion of colorful characters descend upon the property to meet William, along with his flighty mother Martha (Lillian Bogovich). Those visitors include his stage rival Felix Geisel (Tom Gough) and the vindictive Daria Chase (Gabriella Goldstein), a woman whose chosen career of ill-repute, one of those ornery theater critics, makes her the target of dastardly violence.

The play’s obvious satirization of an early 1900s English mystery drama is clear to the audience, the performers tasked with implementing a very specific style. Within Ludwig’s script lies all the elements that make for a joyful narrative along with a nice set of surprises, placed neatly on yet another deliciously detailed set design from Ron Gasparinetti. The soundscape crafted by George Psarras is bold and ambitious, audio springing from multiple spots within the luxurious living room, setting a tone of macabre deceit that often informs as another character in the proceedings.

Vega approaches his William with a suffocating hue within the walls …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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