Donald Sage Mackay as William Gillette, famous for bringing "Sherlock Holmes" to life on stage, in the Cleveland Play House production of Ken Ludwig's "The Game's Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays)," directed by Aaron Posner, on stage in the Allen Theatre at PlayhouseSquare, November 25 - December 24, 2011.
Photo credit: Roger Mastroianni


Ken Ludwig’s latest comedy debuts as Cleveland Play House production

By John Benson

When it comes to contemporary theatrical comedies, the discussion invariably begins and ends with Tony Award-nominated playwright Ken Ludwig.

The latest effort from the internationally acclaimed writer, who has had six shows on Broadway, six in the West End and has won two Helen Hayes Awards, is “The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays),” which makes its world premiere in a Cleveland Play House production Friday through Dec. 18 at PlayhouseSquare’s Allen Theatre.

“What you want for a world premiere is someplace where you can have the luxury of working on the show in a totally professional atmosphere where you get the best people and really great work is done,” said Ludwig, calling from his Washington, D.C. home. “The Cleveland Play House is a great place to go.”

For the past month, Ludwig (“Crazy for You,” “Lend Me a Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Treasure Island,” “Shakespeare in Hollywood” and “Leading Ladies”) has been in and out of the Rock Hall city, honing the show and even changing lines as needed.

The murder-mystery is set in the 1930s, when veteran actor William Gillette, who has played the role of Sherlock Holmes many times, holds a party at his mansion for his co-stars. Naturally, someone dies, leaving Gillette, who feels as though he is indeed a real Sherlock Holmes, to solve the caper himself.

As for the comedic angle, look no further than a house filled with actors and actresses, or egomaniacs and divas. If you’re thinking “Deathtrap,” “Sleuth” and “Mousetrap,” you’re in the right ballpark.

“The play from the get-go is a comedy thriller,” Ludwig said. “Actors have always been a great source of comedy. My God, for literally 2,000 years people have been writing backstage comedies. There’s a great joy. Actors are flamboyant, leading two lives at the same time. They’re out-going, they are artists and have a great scope of reference, so it’s a wonderful source of comedy. And indeed a lot of my plays have that.”

Ludwig points to his productions such as “Lend Me A Tenor,” which is set in Cleveland, “Moon Over Buffalo,” “Shakespeare in Hollywood” and “Leading Ladies.” In fact, Ludwig directed the latter production’s world premiere debut in 2004 at the Cleveland Play House.

The playwright isn’t shy about his love for Northeast Ohio, calling the area a sophisticated arts center with The Cleveland Orchestra, The Cleveland Art Museum and naturally the vibrant professional theater community. Moreover, Ludwig believes “The Game’s Afoot” caters directly to lovers of the arts, the more discriminating theatergoers, as well as mainstream audiences.

“People should come in with a sense of no preconceptions,” Ludwig said. “They should go in knowing that what we’re striving to do is provide an evening of enormous entertainment value. It’s a comedy-murder-mystery thriller. The goal is the audience can sit back and go on this wild, wonderful, funny, exciting ride.”

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