Ken Ludwig: Playwright's Deft Hand No Mystery

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It’s no mystery why Ken Ludwig loves writing about murder.

“The murder-mystery genre is great fun,” says the prolific playwright in a telephone interview from his home in Washington, D.C. “People just love mysteries.”

It all began for him with the 2011 play The Game’s Afoot, which centers on Connecticut actor William Gillette, who gained fame and fortune playing Sherlock Holmes for decades, starting at the turn of the last century. In Ludwig’s version, Gillette becomes embroiled in a murder mystery at his castle-like home on the Connecticut River.

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That play, presented last fall at Ivoryton Playhouse, had won an Edgar Allen Poe Award, which spurred Ludwig’s interest in continuing to pursue the art of mystery writing for the stage.

In 2015, Ludwig took on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous sleuth directly and became a name-above-the-title himself with Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. Long Wharf Theatre will present its own production at the New Haven theater Wednesday, Feb. 28 to Sunday, March 25.

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The style of that work received its inspiration from a previous hit.

Ludwig says he fell in love with the puckish tone of the stage adaptation of another famous mystery, The 39 Steps.

“My kids and I had a great time watching that rollicking adventure story when we saw it in London and I decided I wanted to try something like that,” he recalls.

 Ken Ludwig

Ken Ludwig

His mystery-writing bandwagon continued when he was approached by the Agatha Christie Estate, which was interested in expanding the brand and having her many mysteries adapted to the stage, television, and film. (Surprisingly, only a few of her mystery novels and stories have been adapted to the stage—even though one of them, The Mousetrap, is the longest-running play in British theater history and is still running in London after 66 years.)

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