Gary Linehan, The Union Democrat

By Kathie Isaac-Luke

For The Union Democrat

Stage 3 Theatre Company brings its current season to a close with the comedy thriller, "The Game's Afoot."

This play is one of the latest by award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig, whose many other popular works include "Lend Me a Tenor," "Moon Over Buffalo" and "The Leading Ladies."

This production is directed by Stage 3's artistic director, Don Bilotti.

William Gillette was an actual American actor who wrote and starred as the title character in a popular 1930s play about Sherlock Holmes.

Gillette toured with the play for years, and was so successful that he retired to an ornate castle he built on the Connecticut River.

Although "The Game's Afoot" uses the persona of Gillette for the central character, the rest of the play is entirely fictional.

As the play opens, we are treated to a snippet of Gillette's performance as Sherlock Holmes. During a curtain call, a shot rings out and Gillette is wounded in the arm. Shaken after such a close call, he resolves to do a bit of sleuthing to determine just exactly who is trying to kill him. On a snowy Christmas Eve, he invites the entire cast for some revelry and fact-finding at the mansion he shares with his mother.

Ludwig often writes about theater-types, and apparently enjoys poking fun at those who take themselves too seriously.

As the characters arrive, full of airs and literary quotes, each of them is suspect. But, before things can be sorted out, another murder takes place in the mansion.

Steve Coniglio, who has appeared in several Stage 3 productions, gives a solid performance as the beleaguered William Gillette. Sharon Perras is splendid as Martha, Gillette's often befuddled mother, who is savvier than she appears. As the house guests, Mike Moon and Kelly Ruelas give fine performances as a bickering couple, and Travis Bainbridge and Michelle Low enthusiastically play callow young newlyweds.

To the consternation of the other guests, Gillette has also invited Daria Chase, a vicious theater critic. Maryann Curmi plays this flamboyant role with relish. In addition to wielding her pen as a weapon, the exotic Daria is also a medium. Curmi is at her comic best as she glides through the drawing room preparing for a seance.

On the opening night of this production, the set needed some last minute adjustments and the play was nearly 30 minutes late in starting. When the evening finally got underway, Ron Cotnam's set was in fine working order, and included an elevator door and a rotating bookcase essential to the plot. There were a few other minor glitches, such as a hat that wouldn't stay on, and a botched entrance. I'm sure these will easily be remedied by the cast and crew in future performances.

After a rocky start, the first act seemed to lack energy. However, I think this was mostly attributable to the material. In my opinion, this is not one of Ludwig's best plays. Some of the characters seem underwritten and the plot is unnecessarily convoluted. This is no reflection on the excellent cast, who did an admirable job giving life to their characters despite the limitations of the script.

Things liven up considerably in the second act with the arrival of the always delightful Sally McClellan as a Shakespeare-quoting Inspector.

Looking like she has just popped out of an Agatha Christie mystery, McClellan gives a focused and winning performance as the persistent detective determined to identify the murderer.

As the pacing picks up in the second act, and secrets are revealed, the production becomes more and more engaging and funny. The lighting by Matthew Leamy and the sound effects by Don Bilotti add to the overall mood, as do the nostalgic 1930s costumes by Linda Glick.

"The Game's Afoot" is light entertainment played mostly for fun and laughs. At its best, it provides escapist holiday fare with some enjoyable twists, turns and surprises.

This production runs through Dec. 22 at 208 S. Green St. in Sonora.

For reservations, call 536-1778 or visit