That’s the primary question in the new Town Theatre production. The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays Is a hilarious murder mystery that pays homage well to both campy black comedy and thrilling detective stories.
Although most of the play is fast-paced, the production does get off to a slow start. It’s Christmastime, and we’re in the ornate, elaborately designed home of esteemed stage actor William Gillette (played by Chip Collins, whose enthusiasm and love for his role is evident). Gillete is most famous for playing Sherlock Holmes, but he’s become something of an amateur sleuth in the years that he’s played the fictional detective. Making things a little interesting: Gillette is in recovery as the play begins—he was recently shot while on stage, though the attempted murderer has yet to be caught.
Gillette lives with his mother, Martha (a subtly wicked and funny Karen Herschell), and they’ve invited over a few guests for the holidays. Felix and Sarah are William’s best friends, a bickering married couple played by Clayton King and Sarah Strobolakos, who steal each scene with their heated banter. The crew is also joined by a famous theatre critic, Daria Chase (played by the hilarious Zsuzsa Manna), and another couple who works for the same theatre company, Aggie and William (Kira Nessel and Wiliam Ellis). Scandal is immediately in the house: Aggie and Gillette are former lovers, and the controversial Daria may have also stolen a night of passion with one of the husbands.
And, as it would be, one of those characters does not survive the first act.
The audience is thrust into a deliciously enticing murder mystery and spend the rest of the play attempting to find the culprit along with the characters, front and center, in a cleverly written “whodunit” that is warmly reverent to its genre and predecessors.
The Game’s Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays, is directed by Martha Herring, and Herring has put together a production that shows a lot of love for classic murder mysteries. The play has the creepy vibe and dark dialogue of the 1960s The Addams Family TV show, matched with a craftily executed gore slapstick reminiscent of Death Becomes Her. The play is also a love letter to classic theatre; between the Shakespeare and old Hollywood references, it features many special moments for fans of literature and the arts.
In his role as Felix, King is an excellent team player, driving some of the play’s biggest moments and keeping the audience laughing. Felix is best friends with our protagonist Mr. Gillette, and the two hilariously fumble in their attempts to help one as the house is overtaken by detectives both amateur and authentic (Allison Allgood enters in the second act as a local police inspector investigating a possible murder). Felix and his wife, Madge (Strobolakos), bring a crackling fire each time they’re together on stage.
“Madge is kind of her own woman. She knows what she wants, and she will usually get it,” Strobolakos said of her character. “They have very much a love-hate relationship, which mainly consists of fighting just so they can make up.”
King also complements Manna well in their scenes together. Manna’s performance makes even a devilish character like Daria seem fascinating—she makes you love to hate her, and King’s cold-yet-hilarious portrayal of Felix makes for scenes of witty bickering between the two. “I think the play is funnier than it is suspenseful,” said King in an interview with Midlands Anchor. “There’s a lot of laughs in this show.”
“But it is, at its heart, a mystery as well, and you can certainly find the clues within the show to figure out ‘who did it,’” said Collins.
The play may be the funniest production that has taken over the stage of Town Theatre in recent history. Danny Harrington has designed a gorgeous interior home view for the set that also pays tribute to the play’s genre, featuring hidden secret rooms and little clues about the mystery throughout for the audience to spot. A clear love letter to the murder mystery/Sherlock Homes genre, The Game’s Afoot has infectiously eager actors and classic direction that gives this funny “whodunit” a modern appeal.
The Game’s Afoot runs through March 18, with shows Thursday through Sunday. For a full schedule of upcoming performances and ticket sales, click here.