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Center Stage

Lunacy as a group effort

11/26/2014

Actors, Inc., has a hit on their hands.

The Ames company had to put in extra seats, and as their barn-like space echoed with laughter, it grew toasty.

Actors, Inc., Ames, Nov. 28-30. Fri-Sat, Nov. 28-29, 7:30; Sun, Nov. 30, 2 p.m.

Actors, Inc., Ames, Nov. 28-30. Fri-Sat, Nov. 28-29, 7:30; Sun, Nov. 30, 2 p.m.

Onstage, meanwhile, there was another kind of community spirit. A farce like “The Game’s Afoot” demands a slick ensemble. Players need to pop in or out, up or down, just when it’s most preposterous. Lunacy only works as a group effort.

The playwright behind this hullabaloo is Ken Ludwig, the man who gave us the smash comedy “Lend Me a Tenor” (a 2013 hit at Des Moines Playhouse). “Game’s Afoot” casts deeper shadows. It features three murders and twice as many near-misses. The protagonist is William Gillette, an actual Broadway star who, a century ago, helped popularize Sherlock Holmes. His mansion, party central in its time, provides the setting.

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The Ames design has too much beige, but it includes more than enough doors — even a secret panel — and murder weapons including everything from a battleaxe to a garrote, plus firearms. The action requires that Technical Director Tim Gleason be as nimble as the players. He and Director Brandon Brockshus deliver every gunshot and police siren on cue, as well as the thunder blackouts. Naturally, it’s a dark and stormy night.

Still, the show’s success depends on the ensemble and jazzy interplay.

Three soloists stand out. Alex Kirstukas, as a young actor, bounces through eye-popping caroms, now an overgrown kid, now a diabolical schemer. One never knows how to take his smile. We also get terrific faces and a British accent from Caesarea Hendrix as a detective. She’s a master at cocking an eyebrow. Better yet is Sophie Bass playing a powerful theater columnist. Bass uses her upper body wonderfully. She blows up big to threaten, and when she delivers an insult, she snakes sideways à la Axl Rose. All three of these folks need to come down I-35.

As Gillette himself, Cory Hug lacks the same liveliness. He and Nicholas Schoenfelder, as Gillette’s best friend, seem most at home when the script requires them to stand in one place and declaim Shakespeare. Happily, though, both men warm to their roles, and they never drag down the give and take.

Hug lightens up best in his scenes with Ruthellen Cunnally, playing Gillette’s ditzy Mom. Cunnally underplays her battiness, in counterpoint to the hijinks of the younger players. She shows a keen awareness of the whole — a production nothing less than the best I’ve seen in the suburban theaters.

Overheard in the Lobby: The people behind the city’s new theater awards asked Cloris Leachman for permission to use her name. The first words out of her mouth: “The answer is yes!” CV

John Domini is a published local author who has lived on both coasts and abroad and enjoyed theater everywhere. See www.johndomini.com

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