Chicago Theater Review: THE GAME’S AFOOT (Drury Lane Theatre in Oakbrook Terrace)

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by Lawrence Bommer on September 5, 2014

in Theater-Chicago

ELEMENTARY SCHOOL, MY DEAR WATSON

A cardinal rule gets broken here: You can be funny or you can be scary–but try to be both and you’re neither. You’ll be this show. Deft at farce in Lend Me a Tenor, inept at plotting in Moon Over Buffalo, apt at gags in Crazy for You, Ken Ludwig is curiously flat-footed in The Game’s Afoot, a twisted homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. However deliciously cast and rampagingly staged by William Osetek at Drury Lane Theatre, this 140-minute spoof of sleuths goes very wrong by wanting it all ways—to shock (so anything goes), to amuse (no joke is too geriatric), and to persuade (and this ham-handed murder mystery is contrived without being convincing).

(L-R) Wendy Robie, Rob Riddle, Tempe Thomas in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

Pursuing a predictable “life-imitates-art” subversion of expectations, Ludwig focuses on William Gillette, the American actor who found 30 years of fame playing Sherlock Holmes. From this cumulative fortune he was able to build a stately, gadget-filled mansion on the Connecticut River near East Haddam, CT., the site of this lethal tomfoolery on Christmas Eve 1936.

(L-R) Tempe Thomas, Kathy Logelin, Rod Thomas, Derek Hasenstab, Angela Ingersoll in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

Wearing a temporary sling, Gillette (a florid Derek Hasenstab), who we earlier saw almost shot to death at the curtain call of his Palace Theatre cash cow, has invited a theatrical crowd for a holiday weekend. All harbor secrets enough to make them suspects in the apparent attempt on Gillette’s life, the murder of the theater’s stage door flunky, and the inevitable first act murder that spoils the celebration.

(L-R) Tempe Thomas, Derek Hasenstab in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

More than an impersonator of the Baker Street detective, Gillette likes to tinker with a convenient tape recorder and an early intercom. To give him a second inch of depth, he intones how all life is a transient game to be played with dogged delight, just as Holmes pursued Professor Moriarty to the edge of a precipice.

(L-R) Rob Riddle, Tempe Thomas, Kathy Logelin, Angela Ingersoll, Rod Thomas in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

Gillette’s co-host is Martha, his grumbling, fussbudget, live-in mother (Alene Robertson, dithering delightfully), protective to a fault. The guests are thespians Felix Geisel (efficiently duplicitous Rod Thomas) and his madcap wife Madge (period-perfect Kathy Logelin), players in Gillette’s ongoing hit.

(L-R) Derek Hasenstab, Wendy Robie in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

Also in tow are newlyweds Aggie Wheeler (Tempe Thomas in full fettle), an heiress whose first husband died in a suspicious skiing accident, and gold-digging Simon Bright (a sly Rob Riddle), a newly minted spouse with already divided loyalties. It seems that Aggie, no incarnation of virtue, shared a past with Gillette that never became a present.

(L-R) Rob Riddle, Kathy Logelin (hidden), Rod Thomas, Tempe Thomas in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

The final, unwelcome and unpleasant guest is catty and captious critic/columnist Daria Chase (Angela Ingersoll, spitting spite in all directions). This malicious copy of Louella Parsons, who incidentally has her own back story with Felix, is ostensibly here to do a profile on Gillette but actually to insult the company with threats of exposure. (As Martha bellows, “Of course she’s evil–she’s a theater critic.” No comment.) Mean girl Daria also likes to conduct séances, which means that we endure an uninteresting one that only displays Madge’s mischief-making.

(L-R) Rob Riddle, Kathy Logelin, Tempe Thomas, Rod Thomas in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

After the inevitable first-act murder, the eighth character in this crime comedy arrives on this patented dark and stormy night—Inspector Goring (Wendy Robie channeling Miss Marple), a defective detective with ambitions to trod the boards. Her arrival triggers desperate shenanigans a la Weekend with Bernie to hide the newly murdered body in, among other clumsy caches, a giant weapon-ridden mantelpiece that revolves around into a wet bar.

(Background) Alene Robertson, (Foreground) Derek Hasenstab, Kathy Logelin, Rod Thomas in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

It’s the second act where Ludwig acutely fails to satisfy. The first act’s overwrought exposition, self-consciously clever overplotting, and countless clues fail to deliver a clean conviction (since that’s just what’s lacking here). Gillette’s pretense to be Holmes becomes an irritant, not a grand delusion. Maddeningly, the policewoman, like the audience, is never on top, let alone ahead, of the action. We get a stumbling pace and absolutely no urgency. This trifle is indeed much ado about nothing. All’s not well that ends badly.

(L-R) Angela Ingersoll, Rod Thomas in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.

The Game’s Afoot inevitably welters in witless and obvious trash talk from cartoon crime characters; grungy, burlesque-quality sight gags; and a litany of ill-fitting comedy and horror clichés that create clashing styles and schizoid mood changes. You won’t laugh till you don’t scream.

(L-R) Rod Thomas, Kathy Logelin in THE GAME’S AFOOT at Drury Lane.photos by Brett Beiner

The Game’s Afoot
Drury Lane Theatre
100 Drury Lane in Oakbrook Terrace
Wed at 1:30; Thurs at 1:30 & 8;
Fri at 8; Sat at 5 & 8:30; Sun at 2 & 6
scheduled to end on October 19, 2014
for tickets, call 630.530.0111
or visit www.drurylane.com

for info on this and other Chicago Theater,
visit www.TheatreinChicago.com

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