Live Theatre Workshop's latest is a lively whodunit by Ken Ludwig that makes the most of various mystery conventions, from its dark-and-stormy setting to its dead bodies that don't stay dead.
"The Game's Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays" will keep you guessing about who is killing whom, and why. But more than that, it will keep you laughing.
It's 1936 and Broadway superstar William Gillette (Stephen Frankenfield), spot on), famous far and wide for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, has invited fellow cast members to his tricked-out mansion for a Christmas Eve dinner party.
When one of his guests turns up dead, the pretentious actor (based on a real-life actor of the same name) can scarcely hide his delight. After playing Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliant detective on stage for so many years, Gillette fancies himself a sleuth of similar ability.
It turns out, naturally, that everyone on hand, including his dear old mother (a perfect Pat Timm), had a reason to stab the outlandishly disagreeable woman now sprawled lifeless behind the couch. They are all likely suspects.
Live Theatre Workshop, the eastside troupe that's now in its 20th season, can usually be counted on to do this kind of comedy right. And thanks to a talented cast that's also splendidly game, "The Game's Afoot" is no exception. The cast of eight—playing actors, former actors and wannabe actors—find laughs big and small from beginning to end.
The director is Annette Hillman, a friend of mine for a few decades (disclosure done) who demonstrated her farcical chops at LTW last season with a mile-a-minute staging of Joe Orton's "Loot."
This one's not a farce per se, but Hillman sees to it that the stakes are high, even with fewer slamming doors. The beautifully timed bits hit comedic pay dirt with almost spooky precision. This is not a cast that's tripped up by physical comedy.
LTW veteran Rick Shipman, for example, uses his big body to maximum effect as Felix, Gillette's excitable best friend. Shipman's performance, so animated and light on its feet, melds nicely with the more understated theatrics of Debbie Runge, who plays Madge, Felix's better half.
Missie Scheffman deploys flamboyant style as Daria Chase, the gossip columnist whose nasty motivations ooze from every pore. Shanna Brock is delightful as Aggie Wheeler, the ingénue who married young Simon (Nowell Kral) about six minutes after her first hubby died in a tragic skiing accident, or "accident." And Cyndi LaFrese holds nothing back as Goring, the real inspector who hounds the assembly with ripe melodrama of her own.
Ludwig's play is well written, as you might expect from the author of "Lend Me a Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo." But at Live Theatre Workshop, it's also well wrung. I can't imagine that a single chuckle was left on the table.