Ludwig ‘Holmes’ comedy a holiday treat at BCP

By John Lyle Belden

One of the interesting things about Ken Ludwig’s comedy mystery, “The Game’s Afoot, or, Holmes for the Holidays,” on stage at Buck Creek Players, is that the lead role is a fictionalized version of actual early-20th century actor William Gillette, who not only helped set the traditional look for Sherlock Holmes on stage and screen, but also starred in a Holmes play that he wrote with the blessing of Sherlock creator Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While, as portrayed here, Gillette did make fame and fortune as the legendary detective, tinkered with inventions to aid his stagecraft, and had a castle built for him on his Connecticut estate, Ludwig also plays up the man’s Holmes obsession to the point that he seeks to solve the mystery of an attempt on his life.

Hilarity, and apparently a murdered body or two, ensues.

Joshua C. Ramsey excels at rock-chinned steadfast leading man, even when played for laughs, and delivers Gillette’s stoic sense of purpose so well that flummoxed moments come off all the funnier. His family and friends (a/k/a, the suspects) are played by Cathie Morgan as Gillette’s mother, Martha; Tony Brazelton as Felix, his past best friend and present on-stage Moriarty; Tiffany Wilson as Marian, Felix’s wife; Hannah Partridge as recently widowed ingenue Aggie; and Josh Rooks as ambitious young actor Simon. They are joined at what they thought was an end-of-the run holiday party by ruthless newspaper columnist Daria Chase (Sarah Powell), and the evening’s activities will bring around an actual detective, Inspector Goring (Renee Lopez Whiten). In addition, Cyrena Knight, Breanna Helms, and Julie Gilpin play the house staff, and can step in as understudies.

Under the direction of Brian Noffke, no stranger to wild comedy, the cast all hit the farcical beats with professional precision. The exquisite stage set, designed by Ed Trout, includes an infamous rotating bookshelf used to full comic effect.

Even though I saw a production of this years back, I had forgotten “who done it” (yes, there is a mystery to solve amidst this madness) but even if you aren’t surprised at the end, you’ll assuredly be delighted by this unconventional “holiday” play.

“The Game’s Afoot” for two more weekends, through Dec. 18 at the Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road exit off I-74), Indianapolis. Get info and tickets at buckcreekplayers.com.

House haunters resist change in BCP comedy

By John Lyle Belden

“Over My Dead Body,” a one-hour one-act by Jean Blasiar on stage at Buck Creek Players, bears a small resemblance to a present TV series about ghosts taking issue with how the living folk take care of “their” house. Like that show, this play is more charming than chilling, with this story giving emphasis on family and preserving what’s important.

Dearly departed Miranda and Ben Gould (Melissa DeVito and Brad Burns) like to hang out in the rafters of the family home, which daughter-in-law Stella (Tiffany D. Wilson) wants to get rid of. Ben and Miranda’s son Frank (Dennis Karr) doesn’t mind the presence of long-gone relatives and the home’s spooky reputation; he is uncertain about the move – or if the spirits will even allow it. Frank and Stella’s daughter Jessica (Jeanna Little) likes the idea of moving from Pennsylvania to Florida, while son Dylan (Grant Bowen) definitely does not – wielding ghost-hunter gear, he devotedly contacts his grandparents as best he can.  

To make the house salable, Stella calls on medium Horatia (Beth Popplewell) to attempt an exorcism. Miranda counters with intervention by St. Francis of Assisi (Ron Pittman) himself. Mary Miller and Cheryl Croghan hang around as mischievous spirits. Nickie Cornett directs.

The actors playing ghosts are having a ghoulishly good time, especially DeVito in her well-intentioned grandmotherly urge to make things the way she feels they should be. Burns as her husband is taking it easy in the afterlife – sort of a “grateful dead” was my first thought. Karr has Frank share his late father’s let-it-ride attitude, while Wilson and Little have Stella and Jessica working their conflict between the family oddness and the desire to live a more “normal” life. Meanwhile, Bowen plays Dylan as a “buster” on the side of the ghosts. Creepy cuties Miller and Croghan become the literal deux ex machina with a well-timed possession. Popplewell makes Horatia as entertaining as she is incompetent.

And St. Francis would have me remind all that the Gould family “cat” is still missing.

This show is a nice way to start the “spooky season,” especially for families with children, as any scares are “Scooby-Doo” level and at the end the cast come out with their buckets of treats (no tricks!).

Remaining performances are Friday through Sunday, Oct. 7-9, at the Buck Creek Playhouse, 11150 Southeastern Ave. (Acton Road Exit off I-74. Get info and tickets at buckcreekplayers.com.