Saturday, November 27, 2021

Ken Ludwig's "The Game's Afoot " or Holmes for the Holidays


Susan Priver and Neil Thompson                
                                               Photo by Doug Engalla


Long ago... in a far off land.. I had the unique pleasure of seeing Sir Ian Holm (Well, he wasn't knighted at the time, but he should have been) at the end of his eight hours on stage journey as Hal in Henry IV Part One in the morning and Hal again in Henry IV Part Two that same afternoon; to conclude the day in his evening performance as King Henry V.  Henry's famous speech just before the Battle of Agincourt (You know, "St. Crispian's Day .. band of brothers and all that..." includes these lines:

"I see you stand like greyhounds in the slips,
Straining upon the start. The game's afoot:
Follow your spirit, and upon this charge
Cry 'God for Harry, England, and Saint George!' 

And, so not from Conan Doyle, but from the Bard we gain the title of this play.  Ian Holm was on stage for a total of eight hours in the course of the day I faked my way into that show in Stratford Upon Avon.  Sir Ian has said good night now with Bilbo and a hundred others in his wake, but this phrase has awakened my special memory and brings him back, as Ken Ludwig's play blossoms on the Lonny Chapman stage. 

Thank you!  Cry Larry for theatre, by George!! 

There's a lot to be said about Bad Wig/ Over Acting night at one of the oldest small theatre companies in town. Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre up on Burbank Boulevard has weathered not only the "you know what" for the past almost two years, but a leaking roof and rent and other issues. The Group has held it together and why they chose this play is a question that only may be answered by this response: 

"We need a break!" 

Audiences really need some silliness: some off the wall Acting that   Larry Eisenberg's direction delivers in this loopy romp that plays like honey.  Well, maybe maple syrup, on a warm day in May.  

I'd try to discuss the plot, but as I think on it, it really doesn't matter 'whodunnit.'  Oh. Yes.. it's a Whodunnit. We never really meet Hugo, the dead gazillionaire who left Aggie a widow or Noggs, the guy at the stage door at the Palace Theatre who met his demise with a razor across his throat, but there's more murder afoot, make no mistake about that. 

At rise, we are the audience at The Palace Theatre circa 1930something, where the final performance of a play that actor William Gillette (Neil Thompson) has  held forth in for twenty years with Conan Doyle's blessing as Sherlock Holmes.  Moriarity / Felix Geisel (Patrick Skelton) ends his long rivalry with Sherlock as he takes a three story nose dive out the window. Splat!  

Curtain call..  


A shot rings out from the audience!  No.. really..  a shot and Gillette goes down! Blackout!

Lights up! And, off we go  on a high faluten Christmas Eve whoop dee doo at Gillette's expensive digs up in Connecticut.  Cast members from the Holmes play arrive for a holiday party. Portia, the unhappy pooch, barks and then stops on cue when shushed by Martha (adorable Clara  Rodriguez), Gillette's ditzy mom.  Thus, unfolds a hodge podge of sight gags and clever dialogue that fill two acts and an intermission.

When Aggie (Sascha Vanderslik) and Simon (Troy Whitaker) arrive with "Big News" and Madge (Barbara Brownell) finds out about husband, Felix's one nighter with the sharp tongued theatre critic,  Daria Chase (very flexible Susan Priver) (it didn't mean a thing)  .. something hits the fan and as resistant as I might have been going in! Laughter ensues and ensues again.

 Ludwig, the playwright, may insist thst his name be included in the title of this play to add some weight to this bit of fluff.  Ken Ludwig has written other plays we've heard of  "Lend Me A Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo" which lends gravitas.  Round out the cast with an odd little Local Police Inspector Michele Schultz and more laughter (in the voice of M*A*S*H's Father Mulcahy, "Jocularity!").  I rather take issue with the inspector's British presentation as a cop in Connecticut, but in a discussion with the director, they just went with it.

Chris Winfield's set serves: including a vanishing full bar that rotates heavily (sometimes).  Douglas Gabrielle's light design is simple and effective. There must be a special shout out to Angela Eads' costume designs.  She had to do costumes for the brief ending of the Sherlock Holmes play and then created some gorgeous gowns for the Christmas Eve part of the show that is.. well.. most of the show.

Full disclosure, the director, Larry Eisenberg, is an old and dear pal whose work as a director and as an actor I've admired for years.  The challenge of this play is that the marginal acting is in the script and finding actors who can effectively play marginally might have been problematic. They all succeed. The fun is in the fast pace and some really funny gags: G A G S.  

Support local theatre. Wear your mask (I really liked the woman with the polka dots) and get back into an audience. 

Be prepared to applaud!! 

"Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot"

Lonny Chapman's Group Repertory Theatre

10900 Burbank Boulevard

North Hollywood, CA 91601  

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