In relating the adventures of Sherlock Holmes, Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, through his character Dr. Watson, Holmes quotes William Shakespeare in more than 10 adventures. One of the most well known expressions is, “Come, Watson, come. The game is afoot.”
Holmes quotes Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” end of act III, Scene I. 1597, “Before the game is afoot, thou still let’st slip.”
The Players current offering is Ken Ludwig’s “The Game’s Afoot,” a hilarious whodunit set on the eccentric estate of actor William Gillette, the first American actor/playwright to portray Sherlock Holmes on stage.
Gillette’s first biographer, Henry Zecher, will give a presentation on Gillette to ticket holders at 6:30 p.m. prior to the Wednesday, August 28 performance of “The Game’s Afoot.” I hope you can join us for this special event. Advance registration is highly appreciated.
If you are unable to join let me share a few tidbits about Gillette.
Born in 1853, his father was U. S. Senator Francis Gillette. Gillette’s wife, Elizabeth Daggett Hooker Gillette, is a descendent of Thomas Hooker, the founder of Hartford.
Gillette was friends with Mark Twain. Gillette was a “personality” actor, always playing himself onstage, earning him the sobriquet “the aristocrat of the stage.”
He played starring parts in most of his own plays, including The Professor which ran for 151 performances, earning Gillette a salary of $50 a week.
Gillette wrote two Civil War pieces Held by the Enemy (1866) and Secret Service (1895). The London cast included a young Ethel Barrymore.
He created a number of starring roles in plays by James M. Barrie including The Admirable Crichton (1903) and Dear Brutus (1918) with a young Helen Hayes.
Gillette delivered a famous address called “The Illusion of the First Time in Acting” in 1913 to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. As a playwright and director, he pioneered the “realism of action,” avoiding unnecessary dialogue for telling physical action, in an important precursor of film.
In 1899, Gillette adapted “Sherlock Holmes” for Broadway. Many characteristics of the great detective, which we still associate with him, were created by Gillette not Conan Doyle.
Gillette played Holmes more than 1,000 times on stages across the country and worldwide. which became an iconic look for Sherlock Holmes. He added a deerstalker cap and calabash pipe.
From his major successes Gillette became a wealthy man, and while sailing on the Connecticut River in East Haddam in 1913 Gillette spotted land where he wanted to build his home. The Norman-style castle on a hill above the Connecticut River is the setting for Ludwig’s comedic whodunit, “The Game’s Afoot.”
Gillette designed the grounds and the castle himself, with 24 rooms and walls that taper from five feet at the base to three feet at the top. After five years of construction the castle was completed in 1919, at a cost of one million dollars.
Built-in sofas, wood carvings, tables on trackways and many of the doors with puzzle locks Gillette designed. A grand wooden staircase leads to the upper floors, and the entire castle is filled with unique architecture.
As a character in the play “The Game’s Afoot” states: “A perfect place for a murder.”
Gillette died in 1937, and his will gave specific directions to see that the property did not fall into the hands “of some blithering saphead who has no conception of where he is or with what surrounded.” Gillette’s executors sold the estate to the state of Connecticut in 1943.
The state of Connecticut made Gillette’s home a state park in 1944. Gillette Castle State Park has 148 acres, a picnic area, garden, gift shop and museum. The state added a train that goes through a nearby forest and around the lake on the property.
“The Game’s Afoot” is a fictional murderous romp that takes place in Gillette’s home on Christmas Eve during a party for the cast of his Sherlock Holmes play. While it has been on stage I’ve heard gasps of surprise accompanied by the thunderous sounds of laugher rolling out of the theater. I hope you can join us before “The Game’s Afoot” leaves our stage.
The Players fall season will bring a heartfelt comedy of family to Door County. Patrons who enjoyed Tom Dudzick’s “Greetings!” or “Over the Tavern” will feel right at home with the Nowaks as they cope with the knowledge their family legacy is not what it is cracked up to be.
For more information on our season or to book tickets visit www.peninsulaplayers.com where you may also see preview videos of our plays. Or phone the box office at 920-868-3287. I look forward to seeing you by the bay, where the sun sets, the curtain rises and the stars shine.
Audra Baakari Boyle is the Peninsula Players Business Manager, celebrating her 19th season by the bay.