Ken Ludwig will direct a reading of his new comedy thriller The Game’s Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays) for the Kennedy Center’s Ninth Annual Page to Stage Festival in Washington, D.C., on September 6 in the Terrace Theater. Set to star Tony nominee Marc Kudisch and Nancy Robinette, this comedy thriller is described as containing "double-crosses, triple-crosses, gunplay, murder, lies, deceit, disguise, and sex. What do you expect? They’re actors." Ken recently answered a few questions about his new twist on the Sherlock Holmes story.
Can you tell us a little bit about your new mystery play The Game’s Afoot (Or Holmes for the Holidays)?
What I started to do was look at writing a Sherlock Holmes play. There have been hundreds of such pastiches over the years and they've sometimes been moderately successful – but we've seen so many of them in movies, plays, books, and short stories that the whole genre felt a little old to me. So instead I ended up writing a play about the actor who created Sherlock Holmes on stage (William Gillette). The basic premise of the play is that Gillette has invited the cast of his Broadway play Sherlock Holmes to his home in Connecticut (all totally historically accurate), and a murder takes place during the weekend party. Gillette resolves to solve the mystery, and in doing so he sort of becomes Holmes. I came up with this basic premise years ago and wrote a first mystery play based on this idea called Postmortem. I always wanted to take another a crack at it with a whole new mystery and a whole new set of characters at the core.
When and why did you write it?
I have a specific answer to that. Last year I was in London for a couple of weeks with my family and we did every fun thing in the city imaginable. Then, on the plane trip home, I asked my two kids what they liked best about the vacation and they said, with one voice, “going to see The Mousetrap!” So I thought hmmm … here’s this wonderful comedy-mystery still playing in the West End after 56 years and it’s still delighting audience. Why not try one. I came home and wrote it over Christmas.
The lead character is based on the actor William Gillette, who is famously known for playing Sherlock Holmes onstage. What made him infamous, however, was building a sort of extreme castle on the Connecticut River, and this castle is the setting of your play. Have you visited it?
I have! It's zany and funny, and a great visit. What a bizarre, self-confident thing to do. Say you’re a successful Broadway actor and you want to build a new house. Connecticut, yes. Big, yes. But a reproduction of a European castle complete with crenellated battlements? Yes, theatre-people are different.
You tend to write about actors and the theatre quite often…
Very much so. For me, somehow, the theatre has become a way of looking at the whole world in microcosm. There are triumphs and tragedies and family quarrels and family celebrations. There are love affairs and marriages and children and careers. Being in the theatre has given me so many families to enjoy. I was reminded of this when I came back to the Tony Awards recently. I don’t live in New York, so I don’t see my theatre friends as often as some people do: but this was like old home week. Dozens of friends came up to me and we caught up on our families and careers and our whole lives. The theatre is a place of love, and to reconnect like that is just heartwarming. It’s why I write so much about the theatre and it’s why I’m in the theatre.