Keith Dougherty’s review of The Game’s Afoot

September 11, 2018

Being my first visit to the Rivoli Theater, I was immediately taken to another time, with its vintage finishes and authentic feel. Built in 1923, the theater was renovated in the late 1930’s and remains almost intact from that period. I was greeted by very friendly folk, settled in to my comfortable seat with some delicious, freshly popped popcorn, ready to enjoy an evening of murder, mayhem, and mirth.

Co-directed by the talented team of Kim Schneeberger and Harold Tighe, The Game’s Afoot was written by the King of period-piece farces, Ken Ludwig, and was the winner of the 2012 Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allen Poe Award for Best Play. Billed as a comedy thriller, this drawing room mystery is a fun whodunit set in December 1936. I’d like to stress the word “fun” because that is definitely what this cast was having on opening night in South Fallsburg.
Before their holiday break, an unknown assailant shoots thespian, William Gillette (Alan Charney) during the curtain call of a performance of his Broadway show. Fortunately, it’s not a serious injury so he goes ahead with his plans to celebrate the holiday with his fellow castmates as he recovers. The festivities are to take place at Gillette’s castle on the Connecticut River, built with the fortune he made from the Sherlock Holmes play he wrote and starred in for decades. Much like his idol, Sherlock Holmes, Gillette has assembled his castle with many state-of-the-art features, such as a hidden room that opens with the pull of a sconce, a remote control, and an intercom.

Sharing the castle with Gillette is his very sweet, yet somewhat eccentric mother, Martha (Constance Slater), who only wants the best for her boy and will do just about anything to protect him. Hence, the mystery unfolds, and the mayhem commences, as the holiday guests begin to arrive, and Gillette enlists their help to determine who tried to kill him. Enter longtime friend, Felix Geisel (Rick Schafstein), his wife, Madge (Heather Strauss), and young newlyweds, Simon Bright (Derk VanWolde), and Aggie Wheeler (Taylor Lamorand).

Unknown to everyone, and not at all a pleasant surprise, Gillette has also invited a conniving theater critic, Daria Chase (Kim Schneeberger), who, at one point, has written horrible things about almost all the attendees. True to any farce, there are misfortunes and mishaps, twists and turns, and the plot turns into a double whodunit when one of the guests is murdered after a suspicious séance.

Although I would have liked to have seen a few more levels to Gillette’s character, Alan Charney was quite entertaining as he bustled around the stage. His chemistry with Rick Shafstein’s Felix was fun to watch, and their scenes together were their best moments on stage.
Heather Strauss was very believable as Madge, with a comfortable and skilled stage presence. As Simon, Derk VanWolde played it a bit too timid but had some nice moments with Aggie. With more stage experience I feel VanWolde will become a credible actor. Taylor Lamorand gave us a versatile portrayal of Aggie but has a habit of looking out into the audience, which distracted from her fine performance. Her transformation at the end of Act II was seamless and demonstrated some well thought out levels to her character.

Kim Schneeberger, who doubled as co-director, put the capital D in Diva, with her wonderful portrayal of Daria Chase. Her strength and fluidity brought the play to the next level and a character you love to hate, to life. As Gillette’s elderly mother, Constance Slater was a joy to watch, and a natural on stage. Her Martha was everything she needed to be and brought a sense of comfort and warmth to all the antics going on around her. Nearly stealing the show was the wonderful Ellen Pavloff as Inspector Goring. We don’t see her until the start of Act II but she entered with a strength and polish that was integral to her character. Her comic timing was near perfect and it was obvious we were watching a seasoned performer.

Ed Berens costumed the actors perfectly and Jim Schmidt was right on the money with Lighting and Sound Design. Harold Tighe’s Set Design was impressive, with the moving secret bookcase a highlight. Kudos to the Set Build Crew and Set Design Crew, Jim Schmidt, Jim Fedroff, Kim Schneeberger, Harold Tighe, Ellen Pavloff, and Rick Schafstein. As you can tell by the repeated names and multiple roles in this wonderful theater, it’s a labor of love and true representation of theater family at the Rivoli, and hats off to all.