TRAVERSE CITY — Jan Dalton has a little extra inspiration for his leading role in “The Game’s Afoot”: the playwright’s autograph.
Dalton had been hoping to snag the role in an upcoming Old Town Playhouse production of the play when its author, Ken Ludwig, came to town last summer on a book tour. Dalton got Ludwig to sign his script and shortly after won the coveted role.
The Edgar Award-winning comedy/thriller opens today, on the theater's mainstage.
Dalton plays William Gillette, a Broadway star known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes. While recovering from a wound at his Connecticut mansion, Gillette invites some friends for a Christmas Eve celebration. But when one of his guests is murdered, Gillette channels his inner Holmes to solve the mystery before anyone else gets hurt.
"Doing the Shakespeare and being pompous and full of myself is easy for me," said Dalton, whose OTP roles include "Dracula" and "The Tempest." "The part that's difficult for me is the farce. Because it's got to be believable."
Like Ludwig’s Tony Award-winning “Lend Me a Tenor” — a staple of community and professional theater — “The Game’s Afoot” is characterized by its fast pace, witty dialogue and references to Shakespeare. But there also are plenty of special effects, making for some extra challenges.
“There’s a snowstorm with lightning and thunder, weapons that disappear from the wall, rooms that are hidden, bloody knives, all kinds of things that are fun,” said director Harriett Mittelberger. “And for the audience, it's shock, shock, shock.”
Mittelberger based the show's opulent set on the real Gillette’s art-deco mansion in Connecticut, where the actor, playwright and stage director/producer (1853-1937) invented and played with gadgets and mirrors.
"He was eccentric and private," said Dalton, of the turn-of-the-century thespian who played Holmes 1,300 times on stage and created characteristics of the brilliant and arrogant detective — like wearing a deerstalker cap and smoking a curved pipe — audiences still recognize. "When he died, he wanted his effects burned because he didn't want people to know about his private life. It was more important that people knew his stage persona."
For tickets, visit oldtownplayhouse.com.