“The Game’s Afoot” powered by high-style hilarity

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A scene from “The Game’s Afoot” at the Drury Lane Theatre features (standing left to right) Rob Riddle, Angela Ingersoll and Rod Thomas, with Temper Thomas and Kathy Logelin (seated).



± Through Oct. 19

± Drury Lane Theatre, 100 Drury Lane, Oakbrook

± Tickets: $40-$50

± Info: (630) 530-0111

Maybe it’s just the way the corpse of Daria Chase, a decidedly nasty but powerful theater critic, refuses to behave when it is being unceremoniously stashed in various locations. (I confess to having a vested interest in this particular case.) Or perhaps it’s the way Martha Gillette, the shrewdly addled mother of celebrated actor William Gillette, serves tea to this critic, who threatens to ruin her son. Or maybe it’s the way the wildly eccentric Inspector Goring, who is brought in to investigate strange doings at the magnificent Gillette Mansion in Connecticut, can barely suppress her theatrical impulses.

The truth is, everyone on stage in the Drury Lane Theatre production of “The Game’s Afoot,” Ken Ludwig’s deliciously nutty, sensationally well-done mock-murder-mystery about the New York theatrical set, circa 1936, is in full “actor” mode. And it hardly matters whether they happen to be biting into a carrot, or wrapping a garrote around the neck of a wife, or delivering zesty infusions of Shakespeare, or sending up Sherlock Holmes in ways that should give that guy named Benedict Cumberbatch (of recent “Sherlock” fame) a moment of pause.

To cut to the chase: Ludwig (the immensely clever author of “Lend Me a Tenor,” and the books for several Broadway musicals, including “Crazy for You”), has devised a hugely clever gem of a comic vehicle that mixes genres and pays homage to great theatrical stereotypes. And director William Osetek — in league with an absolutely stellar cast of musical theater talents who don’t have to sing to display their masterful timing — has done a bang-up job of bringing it to life. He has gotten immeasurable help from designer Kevin Depinet (whose spectacular, beats-Broadway set triggeres loud applause in several scenes), and costume designer Maggie Hofmann (who has a way with snowy fur wraps and more).

Tapping into theater history (the life and times of Gillette, a star of the early 20th century American stage who collaborated with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle on a play about Sherlock Holmes, and then forged a huge success in playing the role throughout three decades), Ludwig has taken the sublime right into the ridiculous. And you could hardly ask for more fun.

It all begins with a brief scene from the “Sherlock Holmes” play, performed against a retro backdrop. Then, during a curtain speech by William Gillette (Derek Hasenstab in drolly flamboyant form), a shot rings out and the actor falls to the floor, wounded. Whodunnit? That is precisely the question that sets the insanity into full motion. And before it’s all over there will be the murder of a Broadway stagehand, as well as that nasty critic, along with much backstabbing of the literal and metaphorical kind, and a seance scene in which the table really does shake, rattle and roll.

The details of the plot cannot be outlined in short form. Suffice it to say that William and his mother, Martha (Alene Robertson, whose facial expressions and timing are beyond priceless), are hosting a Christmas eve party for the theater crowd. The guests include: Simon Bright (Rob Riddle, ideally fleet and inscrutable); his new wife, actress and recent heiress, Aggie Wheeler (the elegant, similarly inscrutable Tempe Thomas);, and actor Felix Geisel (the blithely comic Rod Thomas), and his smart, no-nonsense actress wife, Madge (deft work by Kathy Logelin). Also invited, as a way of assuring a flattering high-profile story in Vanity Fair, is critic Chase, who is played by Angela Ingersoll with singular physical brilliance, and who, alone, is worth the price of admission as she easily steals every scene in which she refuses to be neatly hidden. But then there is Wendy Robie as Goring. And what can you say about pure madness?

Nothing more is to be said. “The Game’s Afoot,” and you are advised to high-tail it to the Drury Lane.

set receives applause at several different moments, particularly when revealed

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