Since his first Broadway hit in 1989, prolific playwright Ken Ludwig has kept most of this country’s regional — and community — theaters well-supplied in entertaining fare.
Most of it is strictly no-nonsense — make that plenty of nonsense — farce (“Lend Me A Tenor”) while several set the pratfalls to music (“Crazy For You”).
The Ludwig offering that opened Friday evening in the South Bend Civic Theatre’s Wilson Theatre
mixes holiday merriment with murder. From it’s title, “The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays,” it doesn’t take much to deduce that the rough-and-tumble action will be laced with mayhem or that the detail-minded detective will be Sherlock Holmes as played by actor William Gillette.
Actually, it’s Bill Svelmoe playing Gillette playing Holmes.
Gillette was a Broadway actor /director/playwright at the turn of the century. With the permission of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle he wrote a four-act drama starring himself as Holmes. Over the course of 30 years, he played the character more than1,300 times and is responsible for Holmes’ signature deerstalker cap and Meerschaum pipe.
The setting for Ludwig’s mystery/farce is Gillette’s Connecticut castle (still a tourist attraction) to which he has invited the cast of his play for a holiday — and to determine who shot at him during a recent performance. He plans to answer this question in true Holmesian fashion.
Under the direction of Tucker Curtis, the eight-member cast features mostly area theater veterans. Led by Svelmoe they are Mary Ann Moran as the actor’s mother Martha Gillette; Mark Moriarty as his best friend Felix Geisel; Lucinda Gary Moriarty as Felix’ wife Madge; Casey St. Aubin as leading man Simon Bright; Grace Lazarz as Simon’s girlfriend Aggie Wheeler; Kate Telesca Banks as drama critic Daria Chase; and Laurisa LeSure as police Inspector Goring.
During the course of the evening, one is murdered and the others, when not confessing to the crime, run around literally in circles trying to find the killer.
Damon Mroczak’s scenic design covers a lot of territory. The set contains several “hidden features” including a suit of armor which serves as an intercom and a trophy wall which doubles as a bar (and body hiding place).
The action opens on a theater stage where the company is playing Shakespeare but as the action is in front of the Gillette drawing room set, it takes a while to realize that it is not taking place in that room.
The location changes to the mansion which features a giant art deco something high above the sliding doors to the patio. I suppose it was a window but it really was a distraction. On the second level, the door frames should have been taller as anyone going in or out had to stoop to avoid hitting his/her head. For the Christmas setting, there were only a few decorations and no tree.
As for the actors, they were again fighting the playing space which tends to swallow all dialogue not aimed directly at the audience. Crisper diction and projection is a must.
It seemed that there were only two vocal levels: shouting or mumbling. Svelmoe and Mark Moriarty shouted a good deal, primarily at each other. They were at their best when trying desperately to find a place to hide the corpse.
LeSure was so soft as to be completely unintelligible. Banks stood out as the caustic, sarcastic newspaper columnist who seemed to have everybody’s number.
“THE GAME’S AFOOT or Holmes for the Holidays” run has been extended through June 18 in the theater at 403 N. Main St. For performance times and reservations, call (574) 234-1112 or visit sbct.org.