COTTAGE GROVE — Those who enjoy murder mysteries, Sherlock Holmes, live theater, and comedy will enjoy the play “The Game’s Afoot.” Written by Ken Ludwig and directed by Janet Rust, the performance is underway at the Cottage Theatre in Cottage Grove through Aug. 27.
“I hope you’re ready to have some fun,” said Susan Goes, theater director, as she introduced the play in period attire. “While ‘The Game’s Afoot’ is indeed a murder mystery whodunit, it is in fact an extremely funny play which will keep you guessing ‘whodunit’ and laughing all the way to the ending. So people who enjoy mysteries and people who enjoy comedies will have a great time at this production.”
This play differs from other Sherlock Holmes plays, as this one is set in 1936 and doesn’t feature the iconic Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson — instead it tells the story of William Gillette, a real-life Broadway star who is famous for playing the fictional detective.
The character in the play is based on the actor, manager, and playwright William Gillette, who played Sherlock Holmes more than 1,300 times over 30 years. Gillette popularized the image of the famous detective’s curved pipe and deerstalker hat. Goes’ introduction of the history behind the play made it even more interesting to watch, as it was relevant to the play itself.
In the play, Gillette invites cast members to his estate for a weekend of holiday festivities, only for someone to be murdered. The Holmes actor believes it is his duty to solve the mystery, coming in conflict with the actual detective, Inspector Goring.
Who will solve the mystery? And more importantly, who was the murderer?
As a mystery writer myself, when I watch a mystery, I want to be able to follow the clues and motives — but I still want to be surprised in the end. In this play, I did figure out who the murderer was early on — sort of. I was still surprised by the thrilling twists at the end. But you’ll have to attend the play to learn what those surprises are!
I appreciate that the theatre director reminded the audience to keep the ending secret for other people who haven’t seen the play yet. There is no spoiler worse than when someone ruins a murder mystery.
With so many other modern conveniences like Netflix, the cinema, or even social media videos, one might wonder what the draw would be to live theater. When asked what makes audiences continue to attend live theater, director Rust said, “There’s something communal. There’s something about the give and take with the audience. … Especially with comedy like this. There isn’t the same give and take in other mediums.”
Rust chose this play because she had directed another comedy from Ken Ludwig eight years ago. When her daughter introduced this play to her, she knew she had to direct it.
Besides the comedy and storyline making the play worthwhile, the acting was so theatrically over the top. It was hilarious.
Laura Merz, playing the dreaded theater reviewer (ahem, which I hope I don’t resemble!), and Nikki Pagniano playing Martha Gillette, the mother of Holmes, stole the show with their comedic interpretations of characters.
This is a play not available to be viewed as a movie. For mystery and Holmes fans, that means you have to go to the Cottage Theatre to see this piece.
Sarina Dorie is a writer, dancer, and artist. She is the arts columnist for The Chronicle.