SUMMIT, NJ – In a bizarre case of who-done-it, Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot” keeps the audience in stitches, as much as suspense, at The Summit Playhouse.
This melodramatic farce (if there is such a thing) takes place at the home of William Gillette, known as The Castle, which actually exists on the banks of the Connecticut River.
Robert Barwick is perfectly cast as Gillette, an actor who has portrayed Sherlock Holmes, presumably 1,300 times. Friends and acquaintances have come to the mansion after one of his productions, including the much detested theatre critic, Daria Chase. But during a séance, Daria is murdered and Inspector Goring is called in to sort out the usual suspects.
Nothing quite makes sense in this madcap caper, but it really doesn’t matter as we’re caught up in the fast paced action, directed with assurance by Belle Wesel.
The cast is certainly up to the job, with stellar performances by Jim Clancy as the inspector and Stacey Petricha as lovely, if sharp-tongued Daria, who is ultimately tossed around in a hilarious attempt to hide her body. John A.C. Kennedy is Felix Geisel, who plays the role of Moriarty on stage. He is there with his slick, sophisticated wife Madge, played to the hilt by Kathleen Campbell Jackson. Chip Prestera is Simon Bright, slight of frame but devious of mind. He’s matched by Aggie Wheeler, in the persona of Renee Francischetti. She may be deceptively innocent in her relationship with Simon. Who knows what evil lurks behind these facades? Joanne Sternberg is a hoot as Martha Gillette, William’s mother, who creates chaos wherever she goes. She’s devoted however, to Portia, her little puppet puppy.
Elegant costumes by Ann Lowe give this play, set in 1936, a shimmering stylishness despite the mayhem. Roy Pancirov’s set design captures the essence of the castle with its "hidden" panel, multiple doors and various surprises. With its small proscenium stage, the set may be more cluttered than necessary. Still, you do need those deadly, medieval weapons hanging about. Lighting and sound by Wendy Roome are essential to the timing of blackouts, thunder and other elements to convey "a dark and stormy night."
You certainly won’t be bored by this witty, convoluted play. Clancy alone is worth the price of admission as he attempts to solve the crime in his bumbling manner, while longing to be an actor himself.
“The Game’s Afoot” or ‘Holmes for the Holidays’ continues at the Summit Playhouse, located at 10 New England Ave. in Summit, through Nov. 16. For tickets, call (908) 273-2192 or visit SummitPlayhouse.org.