There are two kinds of holiday plays, says Olympia Little Theatre’s Kathryn Beall: One might make you cry; the other sticks to trying to make you laugh.
The theater is going the funny way this year with the farcical “The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays),” opening Friday (Nov. 27).
“It’s a lighthearted show for the holidays,” said Beall, who’s directing. “When you’re tired of shopping and the crowds, come here and laugh.
“For the holidays, people like either heartwarming plays or just a good time out.”
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And for Olympia’s oldest community theater, “Afoot” has more to recommend it than simply laughs.
“It has all the ingredients for a perfect community theater play,” Beall said. “It’s a comedy, it’s a mystery, it has Sherlock Holmes, and it’s about theater people.
“It’s probably one of the best plays I’ve read in the last five years.”
The play was written by Ken Ludwig, known for “Lend Me a Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo.” When Beall heard Ludwig had written a Christmas play, she couldn’t wait to read it.
“I tracked it down and got a manuscript version of it from Samuel French before it was actually published,” she said. “I read it and thought it was delightful.”
Though it took a few years to get it into the theater’s season, Beall’s excitement hasn’t diminished.
And she’s far from the show’s only fan. “Afoot” won the 2012 Edgar Allan Poe Award for Best Play. The award is presented by the Mystery Writers of America.
The play’s lead character is actor William Gillette, who adapted Arthur Conan Doyle’s detective for the stage in the early 20th century and was the one to give Holmes a deerstalker hat and a curved pipe.
But while Gillette was a real person, the play is pure fiction. There’s a murder at a theater, and the actor invites his co-stars to his manor house in the country on Christmas Eve so he can play detective — a plot that calls to mind the work of yet another famed mystery writer.
“The plot is pure Agatha Christie, played as farce, with a touch of ‘All About Eve,’ ” Andrea Simakis wrote in a 2011 review of the show’s premiere, published in The Plain Dealer (Cleveland).
Among the surprises in store for Gillette’s guests is that he’s also invited a nasty theater critic, one whose pen has stung more than one of those at the gathering. “She said I played Hamlet’s mother looking like a worried hamster,” one disgruntled actress says.
Gillette’s belief that he can solve a murder better than a professional detective is a big source of humor.
“The other characters tease him, ‘You know you’re really not Sherlock Holmes, right?’ ” Beall said, “and he’s like, ‘Of course I know that, Watson.’ ”
The Game’s Afoot (or Holmes for the Holidays)
What: Olympia Little Theatre celebrates the holidays with a comedy-mystery that gives Sherlock Holmes actor William Gillette a chance to play detective.
When: 7:55 p.m. Friday (Nov. 27) and Saturday, plus Thursday-Dec. 5, 10-12 and 17-19, with matinees at 1:55 p.m. Dec. 6, 13 and 20.
Where: Olympia Little Theatre, 1925 Miller Ave. NE, Olympia.
Tickets: $11-$15, with a $2 discount for students; available at Yenney Music and online.
Information: 360-786-9484, olympialittletheatre.org.