|Rob Harris, Dorinda Toner, Ruth Jenkins, Madison Gourlay, |
David Mitchum Brown, and Blaine Vincent III.
By Tina Arth
I must toss another bouquet to the exceptional diversity of this year’s holiday theatrical offerings – Twilight Theater Company’s The Game’s Afoot – Holmes for the Holidays is pure fun, well done, with just a faint glow of Christmas festivity that sets the season yet contrasts dramatically with the show’s sinister events. Playwright Ken Ludwig’s quasi-Holmesian farce, in the hands of director Tony Bump and a uniformly lovely cast, is a hilarious tribute to the entire murder-mystery genre with its non-stop plot twists and equally twisted personal relationships.
Imagine if you can, a world without Sherlock Holmes. While the Holmes persona and mythos were created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the master detective was propelled into the American consciousness in large part by actor/playwright William Gillette, who shaped the contemporary image of Holmes while playing the role over 1300 times for American and English audiences. Gillette made a fortune off his Holmesian theatrical endeavors, so it’s not surprising that he spent a fair amount building Gillette Castle, his own personal retreat on a bluff high above the Connecticut River, and Gillette’s magnificent home (well, a set representing the home, and laden with a delightful array of hidden rooms, secret doors, gadgets and widgets) is the setting for The Game’s Afoot. Stripped to its barest essence, the story is: Gillette is exiting the theater after a performance when someone takes a shot at him, hitting him in the arm. He retreats to his mansion to convalesce under the watchful eye of his doting mother, Martha. Just before Christmas, he invites the other cast members for a festive weekend visit, with the unexpected addition of universally reviled theater critic Daria Chase. Attempting to be a detective, rather than just portray one, Gillette uses a play-within-a-play format in an attempt to uncover the identity of his assailant (shades of Hamlet?). His ploy fails, and things turn deadly when Daria turns up with a knife in her back – which triggers the arrival of the bumbling Inspector Goring. I’ll say no more to preserve the whodunit surprises of the intricate plot, which owes at least as much to Agatha Christie as to Conan Doyle.
There’s a lot to praise in the 8-person cast. A few particular highlights? Watch Ruth Jenkins’ marvelous turn as bumbling mama bear Martha Gillette – a sweet old lady who will go to any lengths to protect her baby boy. Keep a close eye on Blaine Vincent III (as the charming but dumb as rocks Simon Bright) – does his “gee whiz” naivety conceal anything? Marvel at Madison Gourlay (as Aggie Wheeler) as she slips into a new personality for every man in the room. Don’t miss the sharp timing and quirky chemistry between Rob Harris and Dorinda Toner (as Felix and Madge Geisel). Enjoy every snarky minute you get with Marcella Laasch (Daria Chase) before her untimely demise. Admire how cluelessly Doreen Lundberg (Inspector Goring) stumbles into clues, and how seamlessly David Mitchum Brown (William Gillette) floats in and out of his Holmes persona. The cast works together like a well-oiled machine (much better than some of Gillette’s household gadgets), and despite a barrage of alternate facts, they keep the audience on board.
Finally, special props to Scott Miler’s elaborate set design plus Tony Bump’s and Jennifer Johnson’s the glorious costumes, which helped to establish the time, place, and social milieu of the action. In his Director’s Notes, Tony Bump says “There's no place like Holmes for the Holidays!” – I could not agree more.
Twilight Theater Company’s The Game’s Afoot – Holmes for the Holidays is playing at the Performing Arts Theater, 7515 N. Brandon Avenue, Portland through December 16th, with performances at 8 P.M. on Thursday-Friday–Saturday, and 3:00 PM on Sunday.