Monday, April 28, 2014

Designs for laughter: Revisiting production strengths of "The Game's Afoot" at IRT

You see this set and you want to go to a party there — though perhaps not this party.
My review of "The Game's Afoot" mentioned the jaw-dropping stunner of a set Russell Metheny designed for the production of Ken Ludwig's comedy at Indiana Repertory Theatre.

In the course of focusing on the show and the actors, my post didn't linger much over Metheny's work or that of the rest of the team. This was virtuoso-level stuff from stem to stern, and should not be glossed over.

The set's exquisite details put across the up-to-date, yet time-traveling splendor in which actor-producer William Gillette, who grew wealthy from his creation of the theatrical Sherlock Holmes, chooses to live. The beautiful display of weaponry over the fireplace is balanced by the opposite wall's most notable — and useful — feature: a false wall that turns 180 degrees when a large lever near the fireplace is pulled to reveal a gorgeous full bar.

At Saturday's evening performance, I  reveled in the loftiness with which Metheny's concept is carried out and how well it serves the play's madcap, widely distributed action. The room's lights — some hanging, some in wall sconces — are brilliant in their adaptability (since a power outage in the play requires a sepulchral gray glow to take over), thanks to lighting designer Ann G. Wrightson.

The thunder and lightning that booms and flashes from time to time goosebumpingly grabs the attention — which in truth is unlikely ever to wander during "The Game's Afoot." The only weather element that seemed slightly unnatural to me was the billowing fog that kept pouring down outside the window wall at the rear of the stage. I don't know firsthand how Connecticut fogs near bodies of water behave, but it looked strange to see Gillette's house subjected to a kind of fog Niagara, mixed with snow in the second act.

I must move on to Tracy Dorman's costumes. Their aptness for these eight well-defined characters was masterly. But the one that stood out — almost a ninth actor — was the golden vision in which Jennifer Johansen as Daria Chase was wrapped. Never has overdone fur and fabric given an unlikable character so much majesty and specious justification, possibly excepting the title character in well-subsidized productions of the opera "Boris Godunov." The lavish display of wealth and influence in Daria's Christmas Eve attire stands her in good stead from a comedic standpoint after she becomes a hard-to-hide murder victim.

Finally, the wry, parodistic musical arrangements of Gregg Coffin did much to catch the show's spirit — from the start, with a distorted version of the unison snarl that begins Beethoven's "Serioso" string quartet (No. 11 in F minor, op. 95, for those keeping score at home), right on through the calliope blender in which several of Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker" tunes are pureed.

Bravi, tutti bravi to the technical wizards and visionaries of IRT, who cover themselves with glory in "The Game's Afoot"!

[Photo credit: Zach Rosing]

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