BIG FINISH AT THOMASTON”S LANDMARK
by Joanne Rochman / Republican- American
You never know how a production is going to turn out, let alone a whodunit that takes place in castle with a cast of colorful characters.
Take the first act of Ken Ludwig's "The Game's Afoot." It starts out rather slow and heavy at Landmark's Community Theatre at the Thomaston Opera House. Granted, because it opens as a play-within-a-play, there's a lot of necessary exposition in the first act. The audience needs to know who's who and what's up, especially since actor William Gillette gets shot during curtain call. But just wait until the curtain opens on the second act.
Then the antics will have you laughing out loud. This final act is so well-executed, with perfect comic timing that the whole production is lifted into a confection of comedy. The actors are as invigorated as they are versatile and the cast of is so colorful, the characters could have been taken right out of a Sherlock Holmes mystery.
There's the wealthy egomaniac Gillette, an actor who has made Sherlock Holmes a household name. He's made so much money that he has built a castle on the banks of the Connecticut River and invited cast members for a weekend visit. The castle is Connecticut's very own Gillette's Castle, where this humorous mystery unfolds.
David Macharelli, as Gillette, is especially entertaining trying to cover up a murder. He is also convincing as the devoted son to his overly protective mom, Martha Gillette. Jane Coughlin plays William's mother with airy lightheartedness and delivers one surprise after another.
Frank Beaudry brings down the Thomaston house with his hilarious charades. Wife Madge Geisel, played by Shannon Sniffin, is a stunning sight in a slinky silver gown. Sniffin wraps her character in shifting shades of mystery. Not so Morgan Morse as Simon Bright. As the character's last name suggests, this is indeed a bright and cheerful character played to the nines by Morse.
Meghan Rickard takes on the role of pretty little Aggie Wheeler, a merry and recent widow who has just been made very wealthy. Mr. Bright lights up her life and she responds to his attentions with a shy, blushing glow.
It's almost impossible to describe the versatility of Nicole Thomas as Daria Chase, the dreaded theater critic. Everyone at the weekend gathering would love nothing more than to strangle this reviewer, whose venomous tongue and dark pen panned the performances of just about all present. Thomas is one of the most flexible actresses ever to take a community theater stage. She's simply amazing.
And then there's Inspector Goring, played superbly by Janice Connor.
Connor's quirkiness works like a charm here and allows her to deliver one of the most outstanding performances of the evening.
Landmark's stage setting, designed by Eric Wilczak, is well-done and includes a secret bookcase that never fails to impress the audience. Barbara Piscopo has stitched her magic into the seams of the strikingly appropriate costumes. Josh Peterson and Dan Checovetes, responsible for sound and lighting designs respectively, bring this clever mystery to life with thunder and lighting and other frightful sights Of course, the man who pulled the whole show together to make it one big thoroughly entertaining evening is director Eric Wilczak.
VISIT THE THOMASTON OPERA HOUSE FOR MURDEROUS COMEDY
REVIEW - By Bonnie Goldberg
At the heart of the quaint town of Thomaston, Connecticut is its famed Opera House, built in 1884 and voted to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. Inside the Opera House is the home of the Landmark Community Theatre and productions that start with a welcoming organ concert. Stroll back in time in Victorian splendor, with romantic wall sconces and walls of stenciled mint with cranberry accents in evidence.
To become acquainted with this charming setting, plan to attend Landmark Community Theatre’s current offering, Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot” until Sunday, February 23. It’s part mystery, part melodrama, part comedy and part farce and you’ll need a scorecard to discover who is dead, could be dead or someone wants dead. Is it Miss Plum in the dressing room with a knife? Maybe!
The action is set in the castle home of famed actor William Gillette, who made his name in the 1930’s with a play he penned about Sherlock Holmes, the astute and clever detective created by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Gillette not only wrote the popular play, he starred in it as Holmes for twenty years.
Now the tables are turned and Gillette has been shot, but happily not mortally, while on stage at New York’s Palace Theatre. Recovering, he has invited all the “suspects,” his fellow actors, to his incredible new home on the Connecticut River in East Haddam, to discover the culprit. Now he is playing Sherlock Holmes for real.
Arriving for Christmas weekend are his cast members Felix (Frank Beaudry) and his wife Madge (Shannon Sniffin) and Simon (Morgan Morse) and his new wife Aggie (Meghan Rickard). Gillette’s mother Martha (Jane Coughlin) is already there to help play hostess for her son, while the caustic theater critic Daria Chase (Nicole Thomas) soon inserts herself, uninvited, into the dramatic mix.
Spouting Shakespeare to each other as actors as wont to do, the guests are soon shouting accusations at each other: of blackmail, jealousy, adultery, and, especially, of murder. Luckily, an unusual and sightly daffy, slightly savvy policewoman Inspector Goring (Janice Connor) arrives in the snow storm to make sense of the pandemonium. Eric Wilczak directs the comic chaos with murderers and victims hiding behind every velvet curtain and secret sliding wall panel.
For tickets ($23.50, students and seniors $19.50), call Landmark Community Theatre, 158 Main Street, Thomaston at 860-283-6250 or online at www.landmarkcommunitytheatre.org. Performances are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m., February 21-23.
Mark your calendars for a festive Mardi Gras celebration, Saturday, March 1 from 8-11 p.m., with live music by Vinyl Vortex, costume prizes, raffles, catered snacks from local restaurants and a cash bar. Come in mask and costume for this unique fundraiser. Tickets are $25.
Grab on to Sherlock’s houndstooth cloak for a funny and bumpy ride on the Murder and Mystery Express.
THE GAME'S AFOOT...AND A TON OF LAUGHS!
By Max Tieman
The new play at The Thomaston Opera House is an intriguing murder mystery and non-stop laughs for everyone!
Last night I saw the final dress rehearsal for The Game's Afoot at the Thomaston Opera House presented by Landmark Community Theatre. This very funny murder mystery romp written by Ken Ludwig is a farcical look at not only Sherlock Holmes but Connecticut's own William Gillette and even takes place at historic Gillette Castle.
I won't delve to deeply into the plot as it's twists and turns are a large part of the plays enjoyment. I will say it involves a small group of people held up in a large castle on Christmas Eve and the solving and committing of several murders and attempted murders. Hilarity and hi jinks ensue.
Directed by Eric Wilczak, who made his directorial debut just last year with Neil Simon's Rumors, It is clear that Mr. Wilczak has a pension for not only comedy but complicated character studies. Each character has their own distinct personality traits and are combined here in a beautiful tapestry of lunacy and conflict.
David Macharelli plays the lead William Gillette with as the straight man in the middle of chaos and is still able to have his moments of comedy, especially when his character begins to actually think he is Sherlock Holmes. Jane Coughlin plays Gillette's mother Martha beautifully, comfortably moving back and forth from innocent motherly figure to crazy lady hoped up on drugs. She also has one of the truly touching moments in the play, high marks to Mrs. Coughlin for making me feel genuinely sorry for her for a brief moment.
Frank Beaudry and Morgan Morse play Felix Geisel and Simon Bright respectively and are truly the comedic highlights of the show. Mr. Morse has easily some of the funniest lines in the play and delivers each with gusto and confidence. Mr. Beaudry steels much of the show with his loud and very realistic reactions to the situations around him, no one can scream and yell on a stage or make you laugh so hard at a simple breath or exasperated reaction quite like him.
Meghan Rickard and Shannon Sniffin play Aggie Wheeler and Madge Geisel respetively and both shine bright in their very different roles. Mrs. Rickard plays the somewhat ditsy blonde for much of the show and does so in a way that you can't help but love her a little. Mrs. Sniffin delivers her many comedic lines in a deadpan fashion that made me laugh out loud every time.
The cast is rounded out by Janice Conner playing the very British Detective Goring in an over the top performance that made me think of what Carol Burnett might have done with such a role. When she is center stage you can't help but ignore everything else that is happening and are mesmerized by her opulent vocals and hypnotic movements.
And last but certainly not least we have Nicole Thomas as the evil, narcissistic, and completely fascinating Daria Chase. She barrels into the play like a ton of bricks and wraps the room around her little finger. Truly a villain you love to hate.
Special mention must be made of the tremendous set design by Mr. Wilczak and Master Carpenter Wes Baldwin and the extraordinary lighting by Dan Checovetes. The one room set is beautifully done with spinning walls, multiple entrances and exits and genuinely looks like it belongs in a castle. The lighting was also superb with excellent lightning effects and many other small touches that add indefinitely to the the mood and atmosphere.
It was great to see something new and interesting from the local theatre community and I hope to see everyone involved in this production in the future.
The Game's Afoot is highly recommended.
THE GAMES AFOOT-A REVIEW
By J Timothy Quirk
In the T-Town Torrington Chatter facebook group, a post by member Kate Kovacs Luurtsema put the Landmark Community Theatre on my radar. Now the Landmark Community Theatre is a production company out of Thomaston that performs at the Thomaston Opera House, a gorgeous cathedral to the arts and although Thomaston is not the “T” in T-Town Chatter, the director and an actor in the upcoming “The Game’s Afoot” both hail from Torrington and within the conversation thread, my friend Keith Paul, the artistic director of the Desultory Theatre, put in a good word so I was interested to learn more.
I looked up “The Game’s Afoot” from the Landmark Theatre’s page and found it was a story not specifically about Sherlock Holmes but about Connecticut native William Gillette who was selected to portray Holmes with Arthur Conan Doyle’s approval. Gillette portrayed Sherlock Holmes in over 1300 performances and he embodied some of the facets of the character that is still utilized today in modern interpretations of the role. His Gillette Castle is an iconic landmark and state park in Haddam, Connecticut and the play “The Game’s Afoot” is set 3 months after the construction of his Castle. Having been through Gillette Castle a few times since arriving to the state in 2004, I was intrigued as to what a theater company could do with it.
Fortunately for me I was cordially invited to participate in a blogging event during the final dress rehearsal which was being held Wednesday 2/12/2014. As further luck would have it, we received the call early that 2/13 was a snow day which meant my 10 year old daughter was free to join me on the excursion south to see a live performance. I had checked with the production company to find out if the play was age appropriate and I was told that the play publisher advised it was fine for all ages but use personal parental discretion (the play is after all a “murder mystery” albeit a comedic one). I took the chance and lil’ gal and I drove down Route 8 under the protection of a beautifully big moon and found parking easy.
The Opera House towers above the town which means if for any reason you miss the many signs showing you the way, once you arrive in Thomaston, it’s impossible to miss it. The theater was up on the 5th floor of the building and once we made our way, surrounded by the ornate opulence of this enormous theater, we sat in the comfortable seats and waited.
“Are they velvet?” my daughter asked while rubbing the front of the chair with her hand.
“They look that way, sweetie,” I answered which can be interpreted many different ways which is perfect for a Dad who didn’t know.
A sizable crowd attended the media event and many in the audience knew each other as good will filled the room. My daughter sat next to me as I sketched the stage. It is a grand stage and the set seemed to reach out in either direction so that the audience was sitting right there in the Gillette Castle drawing room. I’d be surprised if the set was created to specifications of the original or actual Castle, but the feel of it was right. There were multiple entrance/exit points including a surprise entrance/exit point that features prominently during one of the best comedic bits of the play. Given that the entire 2 hour play takes place in the one room, it is a testament to the set designer, the stage craft, the direction and the actors’ ability to sell their lines and the choreography of their movement that ensures the theater patron needs to travel no further than the Gillette living room during the story.
Right on time, the lights dimmed and the director, Eric Wilczak walked on stage to say his welcomes, his “thank yous” and acknowledgments and then to ask us to enjoy the show. Eric is a director from Torrington who most recently directed “Rumors”, the Neil Simon work. After applause and the dimming of lights and some music, the play began…
Let me say this about the casting. Either the casting director (if there was one, perhaps just the director) was a genius or the actors simply embodied their roles to a “T” or a maybe both happened in that magic of alchemy known as theater because each actor played the part exactly to the right note for a murder mystery comedy.
William Gillette is portrayed by David Macharelli as the confident star of the stage who has played Sherlock Holmes so many times he believes in a way that he is Holmes. Often the “straight man” to the lunacy surrounding him, Macharelli generates giant bursts of laughter in his reactions. The return from intermission is priceless.
He is paired with Felix Geisel, the Moriarty to his Holmes played by the Frank Beaudry, a commanding presence onstage. With a booming voice Beaudry’s protests of outrage or indignation create a thunder only deafened by the thunderous laughter in the audience. The physical comedy he performs with Nicole Thomas who plays Daria Chase, a reporter for Vanity Fair who knows much about each of the members of this Christmas Eve dinner party, is not to be missed.
Thompson’s Chase is a fast talking New York critic who’s not impressed with Connecticut’s countryside and enjoys bullying the actors who desperately need her approval. Her role is a pivotal catalyst for the events that unfold during this Christmas Eve story.
Although there is a Christmas tree on set, the holiday doesn’t factor much in to the play at all except for a throwaway line which was quite funny by Shannon Sniffin who plays Madge Geisel, Felix Geisel’s wife. After some momentous intrigue has occurred and many secrets are out in the open, she casually asks, “So I guess we’re not exchanging presents tonight”. Great line delivered well. Sniffin’s Madge Geisel is a former Shakespearean star and Sniffin plays her as if Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard had a husband and friends but was still unhappy about her falling star.
Meghan Rickard plays Aggie Wheeler, the beautiful, quiet, somewhat perplexed starlet who is overwhelmed by the events in her life. She is paired with Morgan Morse, who plays a wacky supporting actor who bounds about the stage, plays an instrument, boisterously yells, wears a putty nose in the first scene and receives some of the biggest laughs of the night.
Martha Gillette, William’s mother, is played with great energy by Jane Coughlin. Coughlin portrays Martha as a mother with a comical overabundance of pride in her son’s accomplishments with the flair of the esteemed comedienne Patricia Routledge in “Keeping Up Appearances”.
All I will say about Janice Connor’s performance in the third act as Inspector Goring is that it reminded me of how Fred Williard came in at the third act of Christopher Guest’s movie “Best in Show” and suddenly the already funny comedy and kicked into high gear. Connor goes for it and it works.
Now as to the question as to whether it’s appropriate for a 10 year old, I would say that the play would definitely receive a PG not G rating. There is some mild language, there is a fair amount of violence commensurate with a murder mystery such as the use of a gun, two knives, rope, and a well done fencing swordplay scene and there are some adult themes such as infidelity. My daughter enjoyed it, having been duly prepped by her daddy that this was a “murder mystery” and it’s all pretend.
The play itself takes place in Connecticut and the references it makes to the nutmeg state are well received. The lighting was particularly effective during key moments (accentuating the outside of the house) and the sound quality was good. We stayed for a moment while the actors and director posed for pictures. I had drawn a few already and it was late (10pm) so we made our way home.
It was fun to see a play with my daughter. We hadn’t seen a play together since Seussical the Musical so it was a treat. She was fully engaged with the production and at times was verbally responding to the actors and what was going on stage. We live in an age where we can view performances with a few clicks of a button on a screen but there’s something genuine and powerful about a live performance. There is the possibly that something might go wrong and the actors will have to compensate. And those on stage have to create an immediate intangible connection with the audience and hold it. The audience participates in the process by sending their feedback directly in real time with silence or applause or boisterous laughter. Clearly “The Game’s Afoot” makes that connection and I look forward to seeing what else this group can bring together for Connecticut and beyond.