As any fan of playwright Ken Ludwig will attest, you’ll recognize his gifts in PM and L’s latest production, the comedy thriller “The Games Afoot.” There’s witty dialogue, misdirection, twists and turns, multiple laughs, and of course, a snowstorm.
All brilliantly complemented by the striking Art Deco set design of Wow Men Construction Group and the gorgeous 1930’s gowns and attire designed by Jean Newton, Lorrie Ferguson, and Randy Margison.
The plot is as intriguing as any Sherlock Holmes story. The internationally famous (and real life inspiration) actor William Gillette has been shot during curtain call at New York’s Palace Theater.
Although it’s a close shave for Gillette, in recuperation, he has invited his fellow cast members (and suspects!) to his newly built Connecticut castle for a December weekend. Naturally, one of his guest is murdered-stabbed in the back-after dinner and a seance. Gillette takes on his most famous role, that of Sherlock Holmes, to solve what turns out to be a hilarious whodunit. And the game’s afoot!
Directed by Lorrie Ferguson, the ensemble is colorful, elegant, and glamorous, not to mention perfectly cast. Jean Newton as Martha, the overprotective and somewhat ditzy mom, is adorable. Tara Petrozelli as Aggie, the femme fatale who everyone loves, is vibrant and Paula Mantas as Madge is an extremely engaging diva.
Darius Russelle is Simon the social climbing actor and is very convincing in his portrayal of the questionable troupe member. And in her last role on PM& L’s stage, Donna Abear as Inspector Goring, is every bit the quirky, savvy, and very astute detective needed. It is unfortunate that’s Ludwig didn’t write her character in before Act Two.
Because of Ludwig’s writing, the three strongest, if not the most delicious characters belong to actors John Franco, John Carlson, and Sara Shalom. John Franco as William Gillette is larger than life, the head of the troupe, intelligent, and (character-wise) equipped with a nice ego and wealth. Franco puts his stamp on the role.
John Carlson is Felix, the ever ready loyal best friend. Carlson acts with a sincerity and distinction not often found in community theater; Carlson and Franco have great vocal talents as well. But ahhh ... Sara Shalom as Daria Chase is marvelous as the venomous, caustic, very hated and dreaded theater critic. You never want Shalom off stage; her interactions with the others is divine. She is incandescent.
Of course, there were Opening Night maladies of the tiniest perceptions. And with some tightening of line deliveries and pacing, particularly of entrances, PM & L should have another bona fide hit on their boards. And if the appreciative enthusiasm of the full house audience on Opening Night is any indication, this is an elementary deduction.
• Regina M. Belt continues to be a happily working actress and director. A retired District 47 special educator, she is also a retired Raue Center for the Arts Board member, lifetime TSP member, and currently serves on the RCLPC and It’s Showtime Huntley Advisory Boards. She was a 2018 Woman of Distinction.
THE GAME’S AFOOT
Through Feb. 24
Two hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
877 Main Street, Antioch
Friday and Saturday at 8:00
Sundays at 2:30