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Holiday homicide hilarity takes center stage at CCA

New CCA director debuts with play’s first Iowa performance
William Gillette (played by Gabriel Crozier) discovers to his horror that Daria (Macayle DeVore) is dead, having been murdered by a knife to her back. The efforts to conceal her corpse and solve the whodunit made up the bulk of the second act of The Game’s Afoot or Holmes For The Holidays, a comedic mystery presented by the Clear Creek Amana High School Drama Department. (photo by Chris Umscheid)

By Chris Umscheid
North Liberty Leader
TIFFIN– Murder isn’t usually a laughing matter, unless it’s a key element in a comedic thriller on the stage, as in Clear Creek Amana (CCA) High School Drama Department’s farce The Game’s Afoot or Holmes For The Holidays, which ran from Nov. 12 through Nov. 14 in the Performing Arts Center in Tiffin.
The play, which won the 2012 Edgar Award for Best Play from The Mystery Writers of America, was penned by Ken Ludwig and is set in December 1936. It centers around Broadway star William Gillette (played by CCA senior Gabriel Crozier), known for his portrayal of Sherlock Holmes, his fellow cast members, and a murder he feels compelled to solve, to the annoyance of the local police department’s inspector.
The CCA presentation marks the first time the play has been performed in the state of Iowa and was also the debut production for new director Tom Milligan.
Milligan replaces high school English teacher Pete Huch, who stepped down last spring after 11 years at the helm of the drama department. Milligan, a native of Des Moines, has been a professional actor for 45 years. He performed at Charlie’s Showplace dinner theater in Des Moines for 14 years before moving on to other venues. Along the way, Milligan became a scene designer, director and producer. In 2005, Milligan joined the Old Creamery Theatre Company in Amana, where he was an actor and director for eight years before pursuing freelance opportunities. Currently, he is a classroom associate at CCA Middle School. He and his wife plan to spend the summer as artistic directors for the Great Plains Theatre in Abilene, Kan., a professional Equity theatre company.
“This is what we do as a living,” Milligan said.
Milligan was drawn to The Game’s Afoot in part from being familiar with Ludwig’s pervious works such as Lend Me A Tenor and The Fox On The Fairway, as well as liking Ludwig’s tendency to write farces.
“This one I wasn’t even looking for,” Milligan said. “I was actually Google-ing ‘Dracula,’ believe it or not, and this one popped up. And I thought, oh, a new Ken Ludwig.”
Milligan thought it would be a fun opportunity to do a show that hasn’t been seen on a stage in Iowa.
“And it has parts for eight great kids, it has that murder mystery flair, and ‘whodunit’ and twists and turns, so I thought, let’s just try this one,” he said.
While Milligan agreed there is a stack of standard plays traditionally used for high school performances, but his goal is to find plays that are new for audiences and new for the actors.
“I don’t necessarily go on shows I want to do, because that would be pretty boring, but rather I look at shows that would be good for the kids, good for the audience and at the same time be cost-effective, because I don’t have a lot of money to throw at things,” he said with a chuckle. He noted the majority of the props on stage were his, and the total cost of this set was $117.
Milligan is eager to put the Performing Arts Center through its paces and show audiences what it is truly capable of. For example, next spring, Milligan and Vocal Music Director Tracy Williams will stage Footloose, a theatrical adaptation of the 1984 blockbuster movie starring Kevin Bacon, Lori Singer, John Lithgow and Dianne Wiest, about a big city kid who moves to a small rural town where music and dancing have been banned.
“This is a facility that I think a lot of colleges would love to have because of all of the equipment and everything that’s in it. I think its still kind of yet to be tapped with all of its full resources, so hopefully we’ll be able to do that,” Milligan said.