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  • Get The Latest With Andrea “The Diva” Simakis

    [caption id="attachment_4928" align="alignleft" width="128" caption="Andrea "The Diva" Simakis"]Simakis[/caption]

    Be sure to check out Andrea "The Diva" Simakis and her latest article discussing playwright Ken Ludwig in her story Ken Ludwig's 'The Game's Afoot' is a fictional adventure of famed Sherlock Holmes actor William Gillette:

    Ken Ludwig hooked Michael Bloom with "Gillette Castle."

    The 24-room, faux medieval fortress and tourist attraction on the Connecticut River was once the home of actor William Gillette, who famously embodied Sherlock Holmes onstage for some three decades. It is also the setting of Ludwig's new play, "The Game's Afoot," which begins previews at PlayhouseSquare's Allen Theatre Friday.

    Turns out Bloom, artistic director of the Cleveland Play House, grew up in the Constitution State and, when he was a kid, visited the stone bastion detractors once called "Gillette's folly."

    "It's a boy's delight," Bloom says of the crazy, little amusement park filled with mazes, hidden rooms and secret passageways, a minirailroad running 'round its massive perimeter.

    Director Aaron Posner suggested that Bloom, on the hunt for the right project for the holidays, read "The Game's Afoot." The action takes place on Christmas Eve 1936, making it perfect fa-la-la-la-la fodder. (A comedy, it's also cheekily known by the title "Holmes for the Holidays.")

    "I consider just about any play with a tree in it a holiday play," Bloom jokes, but finding fresh seasonal entertainment, or anything that doesn't star Ebenezer Scrooge, is as challenging as surfing Lake Erie in January.

    Still, once Bloom discovered that Ludwig's newest work unfolded in the living room of the Gillette mansion, he was pretty much sold, with or without a Christmas tree. (A good sport, Ludwig offered to write a few more holiday references into the script because of its after-Thanksgiving opening).

    Staging the world premiere of a script by a playwright of Ludwig's stature would be a coup for any artistic director. The former entertainment lawyer living in Washington, D.C., has had 12 shows on Broadway and in London's West End, starring such pros as Alec Baldwin, Hal Holbrook and Frank Langella.

    The setup is pure Agatha Christie, played as farce, with a touch of "All About Eve": Actors from Gillette's current production of "Sherlock Holmes" gather at his mousetrap of a manor for eggnog and clever repartee but are treated to a seance, mayhem and murder instead. The master thespian must channel the deductive brilliance of the fictional detective -- whilst puffing on a meerschaum pipe, 'natch -- to help bring the killer to justice.

    The association with Christie is hardly incidental. The ghost of the iconic mystery writer hovers over "The Game's Afoot" like a spirit conjured by a medium.

    Ludwig was traveling home from an action-packed family vacation to England two years ago when he turned to his children and asked what they liked best about the trip. Was it the castles? The festivals? Nope. They both said their favorite memory was seeing the Agatha Christie play "The Mousetrap."

    "I said, 'Uh-oh, I gotta write one of these,' " Ludwig recalls.

    The standard for all Holmes players

    In real life, the eccentric Gillette was a playwright, too. He penned "Sherlock Holmes" in 1899, casting himself in the role of Sir Arthur Canon Doyle's mercurial sleuth, a move that made him famous -- and one of the richest actors of his generation.

    Henry Zecher, author of the definitive doorstop of a biography, "William Gillette, America's Sherlock Holmes," says that the actor, who died at 83 in 1937, raked in an estimated $3 million to $4 million throughout his career, mostly profits from "Sherlock Holmes." (Royalties from his oft-produced play helped fund the building of his "stone heap" in Hadlyme, Conn.)

    His portrayal became the standard by which every actor who donned the deerstalker cap after him was measured.

    "It is too little to say William Gillette resembled Sherlock Holmes," Orson Welles once said. "Sherlock Holmes looks exactly like William Gillette . . . sounds like him, too."

    To audiences that saw Gillette, it was as if the tall, lean man with the "sharp and piercing" eyes and "thin, hawk-like nose," as Dr. Watson describes Holmes, had walked off the pages of an Arthur Conan Doyle mystery. When the stories were published in the United States in Collier's magazine, artist Frederic Dorr Steele modeled his drawings on Gillette.

    "You know how big a star John Wayne was?" says Zecher. "And Clint Eastwood and Sean Connery? That's how big William Gillette was as an actor. And if you look at the success of Neil Simon in the last half-century, that's how big a success he was as a playwright."

    Read more at The Cleveland Plain Dealer

    Filed under: Entertainment, Forest Hill News & Events
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