Everyone knows many of Sherlock Holme's signatures, including the arrogant and infamous retort of, "Elementary, my dear Watson." With The Game's Afoot, an enchanting and exciting new play by Ken Ludwig, the Austin Playhouse proves that their skills and talents are anything but elementary as they present a tricky and detailed murder mystery comedy with ease.
Set in the 1930s, the story follows a fictionalized version of William Gillette, a prominent actor and writer of days gone by who rose to prominence by writing the first stage version of Sherlock Holmes and by acting as the cherished sleuth. After Gillette is shot and wounded on stage, he welcomes his friends and co-stars to his Connecticut mansion to do some Sherlocking of his own. As with all good mysteries, as more clues and secrets are uncovered, more danger and mystery ensues.
While the work by Ken Ludwig, widely known for his play Lend me a Tenor and his book for the Gershwin musical Crazy for You, may be just one year old, it already feels like a beloved classic. Ludwig's charming play is stuffed with zippy one-liners and plenty of slapstick comedy. Director Don Toner deftly works with the material, allowing his actors plenty of freedom to play with the dialogue and situations but without allowing them to turn the play into a melodrama, a problem that slays many a mystery.
Though Ludwig's writing and Toner's direction are both superb, the cast here deserves the highest accolades. Every member of the eight person ensemble is outstanding, and they clearly have fun with this silly, quirky show. Joey Banks is fantastic as Simon Bright, Gillette's witty and charming young co-star, and Molly Karrash is delightfully ditzy as his wife, Aggie. Mary Agen Cox is outstanding as Gillette's loveable mother, Martha, and Lara Toner proves to be a scene-stealer as theater critic Daria Chase, a woman hated by all of the characters for her vicious reviews ("She said I played Hamlet's mother looking like a worried hamster," one of them recalls). While Ms. Toner excels at delivering plenty of back-handed compliments and passive aggressive quips, she's even better when she gets to do physical comedy, as her moments at the end of Act One prove. Still, the largest stand-out of the remarkable cast is Jason Newman. His take on William Gillette is completely captivating as he captures both the haughty bravado of Sherlock Holmes and the pretentiousness of a famous millionaire playboy.
Adding to the fun is the stellar creative team. The costumes by Dianna Huckaby are gorgeous, particularly the gowns worn by the women. The set, by Don and Lara Toner, becomes a character in itself. It's lavish, well decorated, and absolutely beautiful. I must also add that The Austin Playhouse's new temporary space, which makes its debut with this production, is exquisite as well. Don't be put off by the fact that the space is in a former Foot Locker storefront in the Highland Mall; this theater is incredibly comfortable and inviting.
With The Game's Afoot, the Austin Playhouse has a fun and glorious start to their 2013 season. Even a sleuth like Sherlock would be hard pressed to discover a better production anywhere.
THE GAME'S AFOOT plays The Austin Playhouse at 6001 Airport Blvd, Austin, TX now thru Sunday, January 13th. Performances are Thursday thru Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 5pm. Tickets are $28 - $30 for Adults, $14 - $15 for students. For tickets and information, please visit www.austinplayhouse.com.
Run time: Approximately 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 15 minute intermission.