“The Game’s Afoot” celebrates repertory theatre

The Game’s Afoot, a murder mystery farce, is the latest installment in the Asolo Repertory’s “American Character” series. The Depression-era play within a play involves the Broadway cast of Sherlock Holmes, including the most successful American actor at the time, William Gillette.Gillette is shot on stage during the opening scene and survives. He then sets about trying to solve his own attempted assassination using the techniques of his alter ego, Holmes. He invites the cast and an infamous theatre critic to his palatial mansion in Connecticut to simultaneously celebrate Christmas Eve and try to solve a crime. The play is reminiscent of the classic board game Clue, complete with an elaborate setting, mystery-solving gadgets galore and suspicious characters, each of whom has a complex backstory.

Kudos to the set designers for creating Gillette’s opulent compound with larger-than-life portraits of Holmes and Watson, secret rooms and a two-story Christmas tree. And bravo to the fabulous costume designers for Gillette’s gorgeous smoking jacket, actress Madge Geisel’s red and green velvet jeweled coat and critic Daria Chase’s sparkly dress, which she “just threw on” to come to the Gillette mansion.

The Game’s Afoot cast was top-notch as usual. Two of the stand-out performances of the evening were the sharp-tongued Chase, played by Gail Rastorfer, who was reminiscent of Meryl Streep in Devil Wears Prada; and Gillette’s dotty mother, Martha, a loyal matriarch who holds the motley crew together.

The play, although not my favorite this season, was light-hearted and spirited, certain to be a crowd-pleaser. Because it focused on the camaraderie of a repertory cast, the play served as a great reminder of just how talented and versatile our local repertory company is. Most of the cast has already played a variety of roles this season, including ingénue Aggie, played by Brittany Proia; her husband Simon, played by Joseph McGranaghan; and her mother, played by Peggy Roeder, who all perform together in this year’s production of You Can’t Take It With You. It was also lovely to see so many other Asolo luminaries, including Clybourne Park star Tyla Abercrumbie and Associate Artists Doug Jones and David Breitbarth present in the audience on opening night to support their fellow cast members.

We are so fortunate to have a fantastic repertory company here in our local community, and The Game’s Afoot demonstrates that actors working “in rep” become as close as family when they work together on stage regularly. You can feel the familiarity among the cast as you begin to see the Asolo shows on a regular basis, and that just adds to the experience.

If you love farce and murder mysteries, be sure to check out The Game’s Afoot at asolorep.org. Up next, Venus in Fur premieres on Friday, April 5. Stay tuned to This Week in Sarasota for my review.

Bryan Torfeh and Peggy Roeder in a scene from Ken Ludwigs comic mystery “The Game’s Afoot,” about a company of actors performing in a play about Sherlock Holmes, at the Asolo Repertory Theatre. BARBARA BANKS PHOTO/PROVIDED BY ASOLO REP

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