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Theatre Review: "Game" Should Be Farce But is More Like Burlesque

This review of "The Game's Afoot" at Commonwealth Theatre (NKU) is by Jackie Demaline.

I’ll start by saying how much I’m looking forward to “Route 66,” the jolly revue scheduled for the July 9-27 slot for the Commonwealth Theatre Company at Northern Kentucky University.

The principal cast includes Roderick Justice and Josh Steele, and I’d buy a ticket to see either one of them.
 
Now on to current show “The Game’s Afoot,” which should be a farce but is more of a burlesque in the hands of director Corrie Damieley. For me the mystery was, “What was she thinking?”
 
The title is clearly from Arthur Conan Doyle, but what’s fun is the mash-up of Agatha Christie stage mysteries with film classic “All About Eve,” all about nasty backstage doings with a villainous young actress. In this show the baddie is a drama critic/gossip columnist.
 
The premise is fun. William Gillette, who famously played Sherlock Holmes something like 1,800 times in the early 20th century, built a castle on his profits. That’s fact.
 
Playwright Ken Ludwig takes it from there. His Gillette has invited fellow cast members home for a Christmas party. We know something is ‘afoot’ because in the play’s opening scene he was shot in the arm while taking a curtain call.
 
Forward to the castle, on a dark and stormy night, nicely executed by designers Lawrence Csernik (lighting) and Kevin Semancik (sound). 
 
The summer theater operates on a tight budget, which explains scenic designer Ronald Shaw’s choice of trappings suggesting Art Deco, since the action is set in the 1930s, but the real castle (in Connecticut and open to the public) is fitted like a castle. Think baronial. It would have helped set the mood.
 
Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Crazy for You”...) knows how to write farce, and the show is insanely convoluted, as farce is known to be. He clearly read the mystery manual that says everybody has a secret and a motive to kill somebody else on the premises. 
 
Hardly anyone on stage seems to be in the same play. As Gillette, Rodger Pille’s performance is in the spirit of Ludwig’s script, but there’s both too much and too little in terms of high style among his cast mates. Think Barrymores! Think a swank, too-marvelous-for-words kind of party, even if there is a murderer on the loose. 
 
I’m not going to do a rundown of the actors because I’m faulting the director. 
 
Among the wince-inducing moments, when Gillette and a sidekick are hauling around a corpse looking for places to hide it, the victim is helpfully and obviously walking with them. Clearly not dead enough.
 
As always the buffet dinner is first-rate, but enjoy it with “Route 66.” 
 
“The Game’s Afoot,” through June 29, Fine Arts Center, Northern Kentucky University, Highland Heights. 859-572-5464.
 
Photo provided