The vanity of actors being almost as notorious as that of people who write about their art, I shall tread carefully here in reviewing Saturday's second performance. This is a play about players and their world. Even at leisure, they are chock-full of what they do for a living. But they are not free of grubby motives that have nothing to do with art. That's Ludwig's playground here.
Under Peter Amster's direction, there's an elaborate display of conviction in each character. The cast is serious about their shenanigans: When they lie and deceive and display their vanity, they do it with the gusto of both inhabiting the characters and being familiar with life in the theater.
Ludwig zeroes in on the eminence of William Gillette, who gained fame and fortune in the first part of the 20th century putting Sherlock Holmes onstage and outfitting him in iconic ways that you won't find in the pages of Arthur Conan Doyle, as dramaturg Richard J Roberts' excellent program notes tell us. From the actuality of Gillette's eminence and his well-appointed rural castle, the playwright has drawn heady inspiration and let his imagination run wild on a Connecticut Christmas Eve of 1936.
|Daria Chase (Jennifer Johansen) reproves the wisecracking Simon Bright (Jurgen Hooper) at the seance.|
|Priscilla Lindsay brings multiple skills to the role of Martha Gillette.|
Stalwart members of Gillette's company round out the cast, except for the caustic columnist/critic Daria Chase (Jennifer Johansen) and the savvy police inspector Goring (Carmen Roman). Few actors now active in Indianapolis could command the stage — in character alive or dead — as well as Johansen does here. Entering in the second act, the inspector has theatrical fantasies of her own to balance against Gillette's detective role-playing. Aside from an odd accent that seemed more old England than New England, Carmen Roman delightfully conveyed Goring's eccentricity, intelligence and doggedness.
The inspector role needs to be in good hands, because despite the play's sturdy structure, it lacks a flow in the second act. Ludwig has to bring the comic complications to full boil (like where and how to hide the body) while sorting out his characters' mixed motives and resolving the mystery. He does it deftly, but not without bumps along the way.
|Geisel and Gilette try out their Irish joke on Inspector Goring.|
That leaves Jurgen Hooper and Hillary Clemens as the company's perky young couple, seemingly both ingenuous and lucky — always a suspect combination. Not much can be said about their portrayals of Simon Bright and Aggie Wheeler without rude revelations, but they do everything possible to stroke the audience's credulity till it purrs.
Murder-mysteries depend upon that kind of seduction to have their full effect, but rarely do they fold into the mixture such brazen, full-spectrum hilarity as Ludwig and this IRT production do in "The Game's Afoot."
[Photos by Zach Rosing]