At Gillette’s castle home, his guests settle in and note the actor’s collection of deadly weapons. Among those present at Gillette’s party are fellow thespians Simon (Isaac Rauch, a riot) and his wife and co-star Aggie (Adriane Raff Corwin, a real find in her local debut). There’s also Gillette’s on-stage nemesis and friend Felix (a terrific Scott M. Smith), his Bard-quoting wife (nicely played by Victoria McGee) and Gillette’s own mother (Barbara Sedano, nailing a tricky character turn), all of whom make for odd dinner companions. The unexpected arrival of Daria Chase, a vicious theater critic (played by Kathy Collins, cast to perfection) results in a violent stabbing and everyone present becoming a suspect. Once a local law enforcer Inspector Goring (played by an excellent Rochelle Dunning) turns up, everyone present acts suspiciously and the murderer (a surprise until the very end) struggles to remain in the shadows.
There’s only eight cast members and everyone makes a vivid impression. Hubbard has some great monologues about the nature of performing and often tosses out lines of Shakespearean for effect. Of all the great moments, big and small, in his performance, there’s a physical bit in the second act that bears mentioning. Hubbard’s Gillette is defined by his portrayal of Holmes and, once Hubbard forces his way into Goring’s investigation, we witness how much he relishes becoming the character. Gillette brandishes the famous deerstalker cap and increases the stride in his step. Hubbard lets us in on the joy of performance and we relish his transformation as much as his character does.
Collins is sensational. Her character is a diva, going so far at one point to describe herself as something of a sorceress. There’s also Sedano’s line, in which she declares that Daria is “rude and evil… she’s a theater critic, for God’s sake” (nice touch). It’s easy to note how dazzling and flamboyant Collins is here but there’s something deeper in her work. We can see there’s a sadness, a desire for Daria to connect, as she both taunts and ingratiates herself among the actors whose work she gleefully mocked. Collins makes the role as big as it should be but she’s not playing a cartoon. On the other hand, this much is true of the veteran actress/gifted writer’s work: no one can steal a scene like Kathy Collins.
Dunning’s stylish performance as the dotty Inspector is another highlight, as Goring’s no-nonsense approach to police work is frequently interrupted by her theatrical aspirations. Smith’s teeth gnashing turn, aided by a Snidely Whiplash mustache and delicious accent, makes for some of the heartiest laughs of the show. He has great chemistry with Hubbard, as they share some great, two-hander comic bits in the second act (the best of which have no dialogue).
I won’t describe it but Raff Corwin has a knockout scene near the end and plays it with real comic finesse. Her work, along with Medrano and McGee, is mostly played straight and grounded in reality, which only adds to how funny and persuasive their characters come across.
It’s not every day I get to mention “Weekend At Bernie’s” in a theater review but there is an extended bit here involving the disposal of a corpse that brings that movie to mind. I won’t describe it, but the sequence here is so funny and thrilling in its staging, I was delighted and impressed by how well timed and go-for-broke hilarious it plays out.
Stage comedy/mysteries can be insufferable, especially when the audience is supposed to get involved. I cringe at the memory of a production I once sat through where the audience was encouraged to solve the mystery “before the characters on stage do”(!). This genre is full of cornball theater but “The Game’s Afoot” gets everything right- the energy never lags, the story is involving, the laughs are extra large and the production is top notch.
The Game’s Afoot is playing at the ProArts Playhouse at the Azeka Shopping Center through Dec 18th. Tickets are available at www.proartsmaui.com or by calling 463-6550.