August 14th Players Pen

Last week at the Players was another jam-packed week of activity preparing for another show.  We closed the musical “Sunday in the Park with George” to a full house Sunday and opened Ken Ludwig’s hilarious whodunit “The Game’s Afoot.”  

The Players previously produced Ludwig’s smash-hit golf comedy “The Fox on the Fairway,” his opera comedy “Lend me a Tenor,” his love in later life comedy “Be My Baby” and his musical “Crazy for You.”

Within the past week actors Paul Slade Smith, Erin Noel Grennan, Rachel Kippel, Peggy Roeder and McKinley Carter  performed in Stephen Sondheim’s and James Lapine’s musical at night and during the day rehearsed this action-packed mystery with Joe Foust, Greg Vinkler and Molly Glynn.  “The Game’s Afoot” is a mystery and comedy rolled into one murderous romp. 

This talented bunch was under the direction of Kimberly Senior, who directed “A Few Good Men” and “Murder on the Nile” for the Players in past seasons.  Kimberly left the Players last season to direct “Disgraced” by Ayad Akhtar at Lincoln Center Theater in New York.  The play went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 2013.

I sat down with Kimberly and asked her a few questions about “The Game’s Afoot”

Q.  Have you worked on a Ken Ludwig play before?

A. Nope, this is my first, and I love it!  Even though it’s silly as anything it actually makes a ton of logical sense.  One event leads gorgeously into the next.

Q.  What did you find fun and exciting in rehearsal?

A.   Working with my fantastic actors!  They are all hilarious and have so many wonderful things to contribute to the process.  It’s such a glorious stew of experience. 

Q.  You’ve directed “A Few Good Men” and “Murder on the Nile” for Peninsula Players.  What new challenges are there in this production?

A. There are plenty of new challenges!  “The Game’s Afoot” is both a murder mystery AND a farce!  So there is a ton of physical comedy.  It took scenic designer Jack Magaw and I so many tries to get the set right.  So much action in the play is predicated on the physical space.

Q.  Did you like playing “Clue” as a child?

 A. Yes– so much so.  What an inherently dramatic game!

Q.  What is your favorite mystery novel?   What was the last mystery novel you read?

A. I don’t really read mysteries per se anymore.  “Cloud Atlas” by David Mitchell (also a movie but I read the book) definitely had some mystery to it, and I did devour “The DaVinci Code” in an afternoon.

 Q.  Are you a Sherlock Holmes fan?

A.   “Who isn’t?”

Q.  What is your favorite Holmes’ story?

 A. “The Red Headed League”– it borders on the ridiculous!”

Q. Which is more challenging to direct, a drama or a comedy?

 A. “COMEDY for sure.  It has to be so specifically choreographed;  the more madcap something seems on stage the more tightly choreographed it is.  The Inspector has a line, “Order from chaos,” and I feel like that’s what I do all day long.”

Q. What inspires you to take on a new project?

A.  “I love learning about new eras, new people, new history.  I love to create a new world with the design team, share it with the actors, help them inhabit it and then discover new details of the world through their inhabitance.” 

 Q.  What is your next project?  Where do you go from here?

A. “ Next I return to Chicago to direct the Pulitzer Prize runner-up “4000 Miles” by Amy Herzog at Northlight Theatre, where I am an Artistic Associate.  I am also directing “Hedda Gabler “ this year at Writers’ Theatre and am so excited to visit a play that has haunted me for over 20 years!  I will also be directing both the premiere and second production of Ayad Akhtar’s “The Who and The What” at La Jolla Playhouse and Lincoln Center Theater.  Plus, there’s a pretty good chance that I will have the opportunity to direct “Disgraced” on Broadway this year!”

Q. Where were you when you heard Ayad Akhtar’s “Disgraced” won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama?  What was your first reaction?

 A. “I was at my desk at Columbia College, where I teach.  I screamed, laughed, cried, and called Ayad immediately who was in London.  We spent an hour pretty much pinching ourselves over the phone.  When I looked back at my email screen I had received 127 emails in an hour.”

Q. Have you ever visited William Gillette’s castle in Connecticut?

A. “ Nope, and I went to college near there for four years.”

Q.  What have you learned about Gillette or Conan Doyle you didn’t know before rehearsals started?

 A.  “Well I didn’t know Gillette existed.  I went through a real mystery phase in my reading history and read a lot of Conan Doyle so it has been joyful to me to learn about Gillette’s homage.  I am so fascinated by individuals who borrow, and sometimes improve, the work of the original.  We see this in the history of music, too.  And it’s all one big love letter really!”

William Gillette was an actor and playwright.  He was the first person to adapt Doyle’s “Sherlock Holmes” to the stage and played the iconic detective in more than 1,300 performances worldwide. 

William Gillette is a featured character in “The Game’s Afoot” and is the topic of our Saturday Seminar August 17 at 2:30 p.m. in the theater.  Conversation will be hosted by Christopher Chan, who hosted our discussion on Agatha Christie last season.  A post-show discussion will be held Saturday, Aug. 17 as well.  A special pre-show chat with author Henry Zecher, who wrote “William Gillette, America’s Sherlock Holmes,” is set for Wednesday, August 28.

Advance registration is suggested for the Saturday Seminar; please contact the Players Box Office at 920-868-3287. For more information on our season or to book tickets for the night of Zecher’s pre-show chat visit, where you may also see preview videos of our plays.  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.