BY LOU BUTTINO
CCC DRAMA CRITIC
They’re ba-ack! At least, some of them. Live community theater returned Friday October 2 with the opening of Easley Foothills Playhouse’s production of Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot”. Before I get into my review of the show let me share some thoughts about where we’re at and how we got here.
Those in the Upstate who are interested in live theater, whether on or behind the stage or part of the “fourth wall”, have been anxiously waiting for this. There have been valiant efforts in the Upstate of bringing performance art to people virtually, but nothing in this world compares to live theater for an immersive, satisfying entertainment. That’s what Derick Pindroh, Executive/Artistic Director at Easley Foothills Playhouse, and his board of directors decided as they pro-actively prepared for returning to live performances.
Before SC Governor Henry McMaster issued his executive order on August 2, relaxing restrictions on indoor gatherings, the folks at Easley Foothills Playhouse had already been working on guidelines for when they re-opened and had held auditions for “The Game is Afoot”. Once the governor gave the go-ahead, and after determining that selling the theater at 50% capacity would cover their operating costs, they were poised to move forward.
Rehearsals were held with social distant spacing at first and masks were encouraged but optional. As the rehearsal process progressed, they were gradually normalized. All cast and crew underwent Covid testing (which Pindroh says they were able to secure at no cost) with negative results. They have continued to monitor all involved.
Pindroh and Easley Foothills Playhouse were also prepared with guidelines for the run of the show. All patrons have their temperature taken touchlessly and are required to wear a mask on entrance to the theater. They may remove them when in their seat but are encouraged to keep them on. Masks are available at the theater for those who do not have one.
The seating for each performance has been cut 50% and appropriately spaced for distancing. Hand sanitizer stations are placed throughout the facility. All hard surfaces are wiped down with disinfectant after each performance. The Playhouse has purchased a cleansing fogging machine and the theater, and all common areas are fogged after each use. All theater volunteers wear masks and gloves while present.
So, it seems that the Folks at EFP have done a great job in safely getting much missed and eagerly anticipated live theater back in The Upstate. I definitely felt at ease with the situation. Pindroh reported that he had had some discussions with other upstate community theater representatives about their plans and logistics so hopefully this is just the beginning of live community theater coming back to our area.
In fact, there is more live theater going on in The Upstate. The musical review “Let the Good Times Roll” also opened October 2, at the Mauldin Cultural Center for a 6-performance run. And “Daddy Long Legs” is being presented to sold out, scaled back audiences at North Greenville University. Of course, the seating capacity, logistics of limiting seating options and overall expenses of each community theater need to be considered by any upstate community theater contemplating returning to live performances. But here’s hoping more openings follow. Now, about the show.
Ken Ludwig’s The Game’s Afoot or Holmes for the Holidays is a farcical romp of whodunit craziness that sends up Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s protagonist while also spoofing William Gillette, the real life playwright and actor who was a huge Sherlock Holmes fan and his play on Holmes. William Shakespeare also gets some play as the characters throw plenty of his lines at each other. As an interesting aside, most people believe that the phrase (and title of this play), “the game’s afoot” originated out of Sherlock Holmes’s mouth when it is a line from Shakespeare’s Henry V.
It is December 1936, and Broadway star Gillette, famous and admired for his leading role in the play Sherlock Holmes, has invited his fellow cast members to his Connecticut castle for a weekend of revelry. This comes on the heels of an apparent attempt on his life. But when one of the guests is suddenly murdered, the atmosphere of the gathering changes. Eventually Gillette himself, in the persona of his beloved Holmes, determines to track down the killer before the next victim appears. Suspense and hilarity ensue as, the game’s afoot.
Director Derick Pindroh has assembled a talented cast that works well together, and he gets much out of them theatrically, comically, and physically. As mentioned in the introduction to this piece, Pindroh also serves as EAD of the Easley Foothills Playhouse. But for this production he truly wears many hats. Having credits for set design, graphic design and set construction. Oh, by the way, he also, with great flair, emotion, and a dash of craziness, plays leading man, William Gillette.
Ralph Welsh plays Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarity in the play within the play and Gillette’s best friend, Felix Geisel with delicious, hyperactive lunacy that he matches exactly to his character’s intent. His physical comedy was fun to watch.
As Gillette’s seemingly addled mother, Martha, MJ Maurer brings enthusiastic energy and enterprise to a number of scene stealing moments.
The three other actors that do double duty as members of the acting troupe make their own critical contributions to the show. Lisa Spears (Madge Geisel) commands attention while on stage and provides stable dramatic footing where needed. Ryan Hendricks and Briana Clary portray the loving (sarcasm?) couple, Simon Bright and Aggie Wheeler with breezy lightheartedness and brazen darkness simultaneously. They do it so well that frequently the audience is not sure which is their true heart.
Angie Sullivan deliciously portrays snide theater critic, Daria Chase. Upon entrance she throws bon mots at each of the other characters as she attempts to take control of the evening. Sullivan sweeps around the stage literally and figuratively until she receives the ultimate payback. I must commend her incredible discipline and self-control during many of her scenes. You really have to witness it. The final eccentric character, Inspector Goring, appears in the middle of Act II.
Patricia DeVroomen plays the sometime laconic, somewhat inquiring, and definitely witty Inspector Goring with understated aplomb.
On the surface this play delivers on its premise of a murder mystery farce, but it actually touches on a few other themes that are not obvious nor pushed hard. There are questions of love, loyalty, and friendship of both sincere and deceitful quality. They are present in the background if you look but belly laughs in response to what’s going on on stage prove that the play, and this production, accomplishes its primary goal.
The excellent physical comedy and incredible face acting of this talented cast enhance the overall result to the benefit of the audience and Pindroh and the entire company need to be commended on how well they have pulled that off.
Pindroh’s set design is spot on and another plus. One tiny area that, when improved, will add to maintaining the energy at the high level that it frequently reaches will be when the cast and crew tightens up their scene changes so the shows momentum stays sustained.
A very funny, very entertaining show that was a much needed and much appreciated return to live, in person, community theater in the upstate.
Hurry and get your tickets for three reasons. First, it’s your first chance to sit in the audience for a live play in eight months. Second, because of restricted seating, tickets may be hard to come by. Finally, it’s a very good show. Welcome back to live community theater, the game’s afoot!
The Game’s Afoot runs Friday & Saturday @ 7:30 PM and Sunday @ 3:00 PM thru October 18.
Tickets are $12 for Regular Admission, $10 for Students/Senior Adults/First Responders. You can get tickets at the door an hour before show time … but with limited seating due to the Governor’s Order, we recommend purchasing your tickets online prior to the show. You can purchase them at: www.foothillsplayhouse.org/tickets.