Okay. Two die. Maybe three.
Like any other detective stories, Ken Ludwig’s THE GAME’S AFOOT is a comic thriller that delves on the premise of deception, hypocrisy, and death. So it isn’t a spoiler after all. If anything, every detective mystery story deserves a murder and bunch of people that just wouldn’t die. It’s the pre-packaged assumption that will set the whole story rolling to it’s own shocking end.
Broadway sensation, William Gillette, prepares for – probably – the best Christmas Eve party ever. After being in therapy for two weeks, brought about by an attempt to murder him while he was on stage a few weeks back, he has recovered gleefully and calls upon his theater colleagues to share the night with him and his mother, Martha. Upon the arrival of the entourage, Gillette learns that there’s been a murder back at the old theater house where he used to play the role of Sherlock Holmes. When one of the guests is stabbed to death, the festive moods turn sour and paranoia starts to creep in. As the chilling Christmas morn prepares for dawn, Gillette once again puts on Sherlock’s coat and arms and assumes the task of answering “whodunit.”
Ludwig went beyond his imagination when he used William Gillette as his central character for GAME’S. See, Gillette was a real person. Back in the day, Gillette was one of the most celebrated actors who was known for his portrayal of the iconic British detective. Born in 1853, and died in 1937, Ludwig strategically positions the play’s events on one of the final evenings of 1936. For someone who knows Gillette, this somewhat establishes a newer level of mystery and intrigue. Ludwig’s humor and literary charm, capture his new audiences through his wit and agreeable sarcasm.Will he die, or will he save the day? That’s for you to find out.
To write a detective story is hard enough, much more to direct one on stage, and Repertory Philippines somewhat manages to put up the expected mysterious premise in their production of Ludwig’s comedy. Director Miguel Faustman directs with controlled steps, intricately planting the needed clues that ultimately draws a vast web of motives and consequences. For someone who is a fan of the detective/mystery, I take off my Sherlock hat to Faustman’s careful presentation of the material’s original plants and payoffs. Also, Faustman’s art-deco designs for the Gillette mansion gasps the audiences on first glance. It’s the perfect house for murder. His wide set presents a spacious area for the story, yet still manages to put a little focus on important little details that will soon be used a payoffs for the climax.
John Batalla’s magic adds to the ambiguous layers of the Ludwig plot. He shifts his lights as required by each scene, creating a sense of disbelief and mystery. Worthy to mention is his scene on the moment of the murder. Here he transitions his lights from festive to gloom, so strategically, that it hides the face of the suspect’s through an inscrutable shadow.
Paul Holme gives off an endearing performance as William Gillette. Here, Holme presents a light, energetic and optimistic middle-aged man amidst the hours of murders. I find it quite refreshing, yet intriguing, to see Holme portraying someone as spirited as Gillette. Gillette was already 83 years-old on that December night in 1937. However, Holme attacks his character with middle-age glee and optimism, which I regularly see in his other portrayals. I like seeing Holme on stage. His presence creates a fatherly feel that’s quite honest, charming and mildly unaffected. My only reservation is how he connects with the rest of the cast. See, GAME’S comes with a ensemble of powerful performances, and Holme’s agreeable charm somehow doesn’t par with everyone who’s around him. Consequently, this makes him a passive central character. His energy doesn’t fasten quite convincingly, especially in his scenes with a former lover, Aggie Miller. If anything, I think that a little more push and energy can establish his character further.
Joy Virata, as Martha Gillette, is maternally regal and unassuming. She is the caring mother to William, and the gracious host to the evening’s gang of murder suspects. Christine Flores and Mica Pineda play Madge Geisel and Aggie Wheeler, respectively, quite convincingly. Both start off as a supporting foil to the male characters, but they eventually build their own personas as the plot darkens. Natalie Everett as Inspector Goring somewhat gives me the look and feel of Charice Pempengco on the theater stage, but she delivers so wonderfully. She is the suspicious, overly-paranoid investigator who never solved a crime in her life, but prides herself of always catching the real murderer. If you’re a Sherlock fan, this character-type is familiarly close to home.
Pinky Amador’s Daria Chase, adds color to the crazy gang. Here, Amador is the meticulous, nosy and self-absorbed theater critic, and you just can’t help not to smile whenever she brandishes Daria’s conceited aura amidst the group of professional actors. She can be clairvoyant, too, you know! Hans Eckstein plays Simon Bright with innocent charm and dashing confidence. As Simon, Eckstein once again showcases his undeniable presence and considerable talent. Jeremy Domingo, who I’ve last seen in RUN FOR YOUR WIFE, still maintains his jolly rhythm and sarcastic antics.
In GAME’S, Ludwig presents a feeble premise through an intricate series of events. Just like Doyle’s form and structure, he offers a soap-opera that includes familiar archetypes, But here, he uses these aspects to thicken his plot of murderous motives. In the end, we realize that we could have had easily predicted who-killed-who even before the games began, if only we looked more closely.
That’s how fun the game is.
Perfomance Photos by: MS. TRIXIE DAUZ