In the T-Town Torrington Chatter facebook group, a post by member Kate Kovacs Luurtsema put the Landmark Community Theatre on my radar. Now the Landmark Community Theatre is a production company out of Thomaston that performs at the Thomaston Opera House, a gorgeous cathedral to the arts and although Thomaston is not the “T” in T-Town Chatter, the director and an actor in the upcoming “The Game’s Afoot” both hail from Torrington and within the conversation thread, my friend Keith Paul, the artistic director of the Desultory Theatre, put in a good word so I was interested to learn more.
I looked up “The Game’s Afoot” from the Landmark Theatre’s page and found it was a story not specifically about Sherlock Holmes but about Connecticut native William Gillette who was selected to portray Holmes with Arthur Conan Doyle’s approval. Gillette portrayed Sherlock Holmes in over 1300 performances and he embodied some of the facets of the character that is still utilized today in modern interpretations of the role. His Gillette Castle is an iconic landmark and state park in Haddam, Connecticut and the play “The Game’s Afoot” is set 3 months after the construction of his Castle. Having been through Gillette Castle a few times since arriving to the state in 2004, I was intrigued as to what a theater company could do with it.
Fortunately for me I was cordially invited to participate in a blogging event during the final dress rehearsal which was being held Wednesday 2/12/2014. As further luck would have it, we received the call early that 2/13 was a snow day which meant my 10 year old daughter was free to join me on the excursion south to see a live performance. I had checked with the production company to find out if the play was age appropriate and I was told that the play publisher advised it was fine for all ages but use personal parental discretion (the play is after all a “murder mystery” albeit a comedic one). I took the chance and lil’ gal and I drove down Route 8 under the protection of a beautifully big moon and found parking easy.
The Opera House towers above the town which means if for any reason you miss the many signs showing you the way, once you arrive in Thomaston, it’s impossible to miss it. The theater was up on the 5th floor of the building and once we made our way, surrounded by the ornate opulence of this enormous theater, we sat in the comfortable seats and waited.
“Are they velvet?” my daughter asked while rubbing the front of the chair with her hand.
“They look that way, sweetie,” I answered which can be interpreted many different ways which is perfect for a Dad who didn’t know.
A sizable crowd attended the media event and many in the audience knew each other as good will filled the room. My daughter sat next to me as I sketched the stage. It is a grand stage and the set seemed to reach out in either direction so that the audience was sitting right there in the Gillette Castle drawing room. I’d be surprised if the set was created to specifications of the original or actual Castle, but the feel of it was right. There were multiple entrance/exit points including a surprise entrance/exit point that features prominently during one of the best comedic bits of the play. Given that the entire 2 hour play takes place in the one room, it is a testament to the set designer, the stage craft, the direction and the actors’ ability to sell their lines and the choreography of their movement that ensures the theater patron needs to travel no further than the Gillette living room during the story.
Right on time, the lights dimmed and the director, Eric Wilczak walked on stage to say his welcomes, his “thank yous” and acknowledgments and then to ask us to enjoy the show. Eric is a director from Torrington who most recently directed “Rumors”, the Neil Simon work. After applause and the dimming of lights and some music, the play began…
Let me say this about the casting. Either the casting director (if there was one, perhaps just the director) was a genius or the actors simply embodied their roles to a “T” or a maybe both happened in that magic of alchemy known as theater because each actor played the part exactly to the right note for a murder mystery comedy.
William Gillette is portrayed by David Macharelli as the confident star of the stage who has played Sherlock Holmes so many times he believes in a way that he is Holmes. Often the “straight man” to the lunacy surrounding him, Macharelli generates giant bursts of laughter in his reactions. The return from intermission is priceless.
He is paired with Felix Geisel, the Moriarty to his Holmes played by the Frank Beaudry, a commanding presence onstage. With a booming voice Beaudry’s protests of outrage or indignation create a thunder only deafened by the thunderous laughter in the audience. The physical comedy he performs with Nicole Thomas who plays Daria Chase, a reporter for Vanity Fair who knows much about each of the members of this Christmas Eve dinner party, is not to be missed.
Thompson’s Chase is a fast talking New York critic who’s not impressed with Connecticut’s countryside and enjoys bullying the actors who desperately need her approval. Her role is a pivotal catalyst for the events that unfold during this Christmas Eve story.
Although there is a Christmas tree on set, the holiday doesn’t factor much in to the play at all except for a throwaway line which was quite funny by Shannon Sniffin who plays Madge Geisel, Felix Geisel’s wife. After some momentous intrigue has occurred and many secrets are out in the open, she casually asks, “So I guess we’re not exchanging presents tonight”. Great line delivered well. Sniffin’s Madge Geisel is a former Shakespearean star and Sniffin plays her as if Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard had a husband and friends but was still unhappy about her falling star.
Meghan Rickard plays Aggie Wheeler, the beautiful, quiet, somewhat perplexed starlet who is overwhelmed by the events in her life. She is paired with Morgan Morse, who plays a wacky supporting actor who bounds about the stage, plays an instrument, boisterously yells, wears a putty nose in the first scene and receives some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Martha Gillette, William’s mother, is played with great energy by Jane Coughlin. Coughlin portrays Martha as a mother with a comical overabundance of pride in her son’s accomplishments with the flair of the esteemed comedienne Patricia Routledge in “Keeping Up Appearances”.
All I will say about Janice Connor’s performance in the third act as Inspector Goring is that it reminded me of how Fred Williard came in at the third act of Christopher Guest’s movie “Best in Show” and suddenly the already funny comedy and kicked into high gear. Connor goes for it and it works.
Now as to the question as to whether it’s appropriate for a 10 year old, I would say that the play would definitely receive a PG not G rating. There is some mild language, there is a fair amount of violence commensurate with a murder mystery such as the use of a gun, two knives, rope, and a well done fencing swordplay scene and there are some adult themes such as infidelity. My daughter enjoyed it, having been duly prepped by her daddy that this was a “murder mystery” and it’s all pretend.
The play itself takes place in Connecticut and the references it makes to the nutmeg state are well received. The lighting was particularly effective during key moments (accentuating the outside of the house) and the sound quality was good. We stayed for a moment while the actors and director posed for pictures. I had drawn a few already and it was late (10pm) so we made our way home.
It was fun to see a play with my daughter. We hadn’t seen a play together since Seussical the Musical so it was a treat. She was fully engaged with the production and at times was verbally responding to the actors and what was going on stage. We live in an age where we can view performances with a few clicks of a button on a screen but there’s something genuine and powerful about a live performance. There is the possibly that something might go wrong and the actors will have to compensate. And those on stage have to create an immediate intangible connection with the audience and hold it. The audience participates in the process by sending their feedback directly in real time with silence or applause or boisterous laughter. Clearly “The Game’s Afoot” makes that connection and I look forward to seeing what else this group can bring together for Connecticut and beyond.
THE GAME’S AFOOT IS SHOWING AT THE THOMASTON OPERA HOUSE February 15, 21, 22 @ 8pm and February 16 & 23 @ 2pm
TICKETS ADULTS $23.50 STUDENTS/SENIORS 19.50