Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

Question: What do you get when you mix a mystery worthy of the great Sherlock Holmes, a stylish screwball comedy worthy of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly and the brilliant silliness of playwright Ken Ludwig?Answer: "The Game's Afoot,"a new comic thriller opening Friday at Stage 3 Theater Company in Sonora.

"Murderously funny" howled Broadway World. "Hilarious, quirky and thrilling … the perfect gift for the holidays," claimed ClueIntoCleveland. "Inspired, with twists that cause the audience to gasp," lauded the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

"The Game's Afoot" takes place in the mansion of real-life actor-playwright William Gillette on Christmas Eve 1936. The real-life Gillette had contacted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and obtained the stage rights to the Sherlock Holmes character.

Gillette invented the Holmes we know today, the Deerstalker hat, the Meerschaum pipe. He played Holmes more than 1,300 times and got rich in the bargain. You can still visit the Gillette Castle in Connecticut today.

That part was true. But that's where any resemblance to truth (or sanity) ends.

Now we enter the world of mystery and comedy. A murderer is on the loose, the latest intended victim being Gillette himself.

Barely escaping death, he has invited a few of his closest (and looniest) friends over for a traditional Christmas Eve - you know, egg nog, presents, caroling, smoking out the ruthless perpetrator of the 'Crime of the Century."

Trouble is, everyone is a suspect, even Gillette himself.

"I can describe this play in one word - 'Fun.' - joyous, unadulterated, unapologetic, knock-down-drag-out fun," said Stage 3 Artistic Director Don Bilotti.

"We figured if we did this right, you could get it all - edge-of-your-seat suspense, scream-out-loud surprises and laugh-til-your-stomach-hurts comedy. I can't remember having a better time in rehearsal. Of course I'm sworn to silence about the particulars, but I can tell you this - be prepared. You never know what's coming. I won't even tell you about the exploding monkey."

Ken Ludwig has become one of the world's most produced comic playwrights. His works include "Lend Me a Tenor," "Moon over Buffalo" and "The Leading Ladies." among others. His adaptations include "An American in Paris," "The Adventures of Tom Sawyer" and "Treasure Island."

Over the years, Ludwig has earned two Olivier Awards, three Tony Award nominations, two Helen Hayes Awards, the Edgar Award, the Edwin Forest Award, the Pennsylvania Governor's Award for Excellence in the Arts and an honorary doctorate from York University.

"You have to have great actors to pull off this style of comedy and we've got them," Bilotti said. "We went to the deep end of the talent pool for this one."

Leading the charge as Gillette is actor-director Steve Coniglio. Coniglio has appeared in "Superior Donuts," "The Crucible" and August: Osage County" and directed productions of "Hamlet" and "Noises Off."

Maryann Curmi, who has taken several seasons off acting to focus on directing ("Other Desert Cities" and "A Streetcar Named Desire" are two) has returned to the stage to play critic Daria Chase - the woman you love to hate.

Mike Moon (Felix Geisel), Sally McClellan (the Inspector) and Sharon Perras (Martha) also bring their considerable comic talents to bear.

Michelle Low returns after appearing in "Barefoot in the Park" and "Noises Off." Kelly Ruelas, who appeared as a young nun in "Doubt," has returned from her drama studies in England to play Madge. Travis Bainbridge makes his Stage 3 debut as Simon.

Ron Cotnam provides set design, costume designer is Linda Glick. Lights are designed by Matthew Leamy. Melody Johnson is the stage manager.

The production is made possible in part by the Bank of Stockton as associate producer.

"The Game's Afoot" will run through Dec. 22 at 208 S. Green St. in Sonora. There will be no performance on Thanksgiving Day.

Curtain times are 7 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20 Thursday and $22 Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Senior Sundays are $20 and students always $12.

Call 536?1778 or visit for reservations or more information.