CLOTA delivers early Christmas gift in ‘Holmes for the Holidays’

CLOTA delivers early Christmas gift in ‘Holmes for the Holidays’By BRIAN COSNER, News Review Staff Writer

The Community Light Opera and Theater Association’s production of “The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for The Holidays)” opens next Friday, Nov. 30, at CLOTA Center Stage.

I had the opportunity to catch one of the dress rehearsals earlier this week, and it was an evening of laughs and enjoyment. I had neither seen nor heard of Ken Ludwig’s (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Crazy for You”) “The Game’s Afoot” but fans of CLOTA’s 2017 production of “Baskerville” (also by Ludwig), the farcical retelling of the classic Sir Arthur Conan Doyle tale, are sure to be pleased when they delve into this holiday whodunit.

As the lights go up we find consulting detective Sherlock Holmes squared off against his nemesis, Professor James Moriarty. As Moriarty realizes there’s nowhere to run, he leaps from a third-story window. To his death? We may never know, because it’s soon revealed that Holmes is actually actor/playwright William Gillette (Calvin Johnson) and Moriarty is actor Felix Geisel (Ben Bockhahn).

The cast is finishing up a run of Gillette’s original Sherlock play when a shot rings out and an attempt is made on Gillette’s life.

Weeks down the road, Gillette and the cast reunite at the eccentric playwright’s Connecticut manor for a holiday get-together. But after the party erupts in chaos, the “friends” must come to grips that one of them may be a killer, and Gillette dons the persona of his beloved Sherlock Holmes to solve the mystery.

Johnson reprises the leading role of William Gillette (based on the real-life Sherlock actor, playwright and inventor of the same name) after taking on Sherlock in 2017’s Baskerville, while Bockhahn plays Gillette’s best friend and actor – the flirtatious, but married, Felix. Rounding out the rest of the cast is Brianne Hardwick as Felix’s jealous wife Madge, Kevin LaBrie as Simon Bright and Rebecca Witherell as Aggie Wheeler – all fellow actors.

At the party we meet Daria Chase (newcomer Grace Lloyd), a theater critic who has written damaging reviews about all of our actors at one point or another, and Inspector Goring (Felicity Browne) a theater lover and detective who is dispatched to get to the bottom of the hijinks at Gillette’s manor. And last is Gillette’s mother Martha, played by Denise J. Johnson.

“The Game’s Afoot” is a bit of a players play, where our actors get to don the parts of 1930s-era performers and deliver dialogue riddled with Shakespeare references. LaBrie is smooth as the tall, charming and cavalier Bright. And Witherell brings the wide-eyed naivete of a showbiz newcomer to the role of Aggie Wheeler. Johnson brings believable eccentricity (or insanity, as his friends call it) to the enigmatic Gillette and theater veterans Bockhahn and Hardwick seem right at home as witty members of the theater elite.

This marks Lloyd’s first time on the stage as the stunning, but annoyingly prolific Vanity Fair columnist Daria, who has only dreadful things to say about our troupe of actors. Browne’s performance melds the daydreaming romanticism of a would-be actress with a detective’s determination as Inspector Goring.

Much like the real-life Gillette, Director Jenna Tamblyn and her crew have created a realistic setting with clever use of sound and lighting for an immersive setting. Under Tamblyn’s direction, the cast of characters comes across as a genuine group of friends at party more than actors on a stage.

CLOTA Center Stage is located at 1425 N. Inyo St. Visit clota.org for more information.

Story First Published: 2018-11-21