Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

The Game's Afoot
Ross Valley Players
Review by Patrick Thomas | Season Schedule

Also see Richard's reviews of Small Mouth Sounds, 42nd Street, Le Switch, and The Lion in Winter

Robert Molossi, Rachel Kayhan, Tom Hudgens,
Elliot Hanson, and Sumi Narendran Cardinale

Photo by Gregg Le Blanc
It's generally my practice to step into a theater knowing almost nothing about a show. Often that's impossible (with productions of Shakespeare or Albee or Williams, for example), but I love the experience of sitting down in the dark and letting a theatre company unfold its story for me. Sometimes the experience is miraculous (as when I saw Doubt in previews at Manhattan Theatre Club, or I Am My Own Wife, also in previews, at Playwrights Horizons), sometimes it makes me question this practice.

I will admit, then, that my expectations lowered a bit when I stepped into the Barn Theater last night for the Ross Valley Players production of The Game's Afoot and saw that it was written by Ken Ludwig, who was also responsible for The Fox on the Fairway, which RVP staged three seasons ago, and which was one of my least pleasurable experiences in a theater, a farce that lived up to that designation. And not in a good way.

So I was more than pleasantly surprised to find that I agreed totally with a line in the play that references a show one of the characters saw: "I found it unlikely, illogical, far-fetched ... and I enjoyed it immensely."

First of all, the play itself is much better than The Fox on the Fairway, with more interesting characters, funnier lines, and a story that lends itself far more readily to farce.

And farce this is. The origin of the word is French, from farcir, meaning "to stuff," as in comic interludes that were "stuffed" into religious plays. There is plenty stuffed into The Game's Afoot: plots and subplots, intersecting love triangles, preening egotists, twists aplenty, an armory of potential murder weapons ... But I'm getting ahead of myself.

The Game's Afoot is set in 1936 and centers around a famous stage actor named William Gillette (Robert Molossi), who gained wealth and fame from a play he wrote (and starred in) about Sherlock Holmes. After a performance when he sustains a gunshot wound during a curtain call, he decides to invite all the suspects (mostly his castmates) to his palatial estate in Connecticut for Christmas Eve. When a well-known—and universally despised—theatre critic/gossip columnist (played by Rachel Kayhan) shows up for the party, things take a very nasty turn.

The cast is, for the most part, quite good. As Martha Gillette (William's mother), Ellen Brooks is delightful—ditzy but not dim, and playing her role with an innocent charm that belies her character's hidden agenda. Sumi Narendran has an easy stage presence, and her comedic skills seem to improve with every role she takes on. Rachel Kayhan, who plays the vicious critic Daria Chase, has the meatiest role of the night, but leaves too much of it on the plate. She's better one-on-one, but in group scenes there is a hesitancy in her bearing that keeps her from dominating the room the way her character should.

There's a lot of wonderful silliness here. I got a special kick out of the appearance of Portia, Gillette's dog, and the séance is delightfully done. Director Christian Haines keeps things moving at a rollicking pace, and has his actors blocked so there's plenty of action—but without crowding the stage. He is assisted by a wonderful set design by Malcolm Rogers (complete with a secret room) and period-appropriate costumes by Michael Berg.

The Game's Afoot is a delightful, silly, engaging bit of farce that's a wonderful alternative to your more standard Christmas fare. After all, this has one attempted murder, multiple completed murders—and A Christmas Carol has absolutely no murders at all!

The Game's Afoot plays through December 1, 2017, at the Barn Theatre, located in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross CA. Performances are Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Ticket prices are $22-27 general admission, and $12-15 for youth 24 and under. Tickets can be ordered by calling 415-456-9555, ext. 1 or visiting