Review of Alley’s New Sherlock Holmes

30 May

Alley Theatre-Sherlock Holmes

By JOHN DeMERS

The great British detective Sherlock Holmes can find just about anybody or just about anything. In fact, I’m beginning to think the only person, place or thing Holmes can’t find is – somebody who doesn’t love Sherlock Holmes. From the current feature-film franchise starring Robert Downey Jr. to the contemporary TV series borrowing the detective’s signature self-deprecation (“Elementary”) as its title, few characters in the English language have been given so many hoops to jump through, before, during and certainly after their creator’s death.

The Alley Theatre is no slouch when it comes to Holmes, relying in both of its recent outings on the considerable talents of company member Todd Waite. Waite has a genius for making roles his own (think of that elf in David Sedaris’ Santaland Diaries, a kind of smarmy antidote to the good cheer of A Christmas Carol playing on the Alley’s other stage.) He has certainly done so with Sherlock Holmes, pouring on just enough angst and ennui in the interest of fidelity to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary original.

After one show called simply Sherlock Holmes and another called The Crucifer of Blood, the gifted detective is back at the Alley with a completely new play by Jeffrey Hatcher, who made a lot of people around here like him with Mrs. Mannerly a few seasons back. For this “new” story titled Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, you might say Hatcher glues together two old stories – the central characters from the Conan Doyle canon (Holmes, Dr. John Watson, housekeeper Mrs. Hudson) with the content of a story titled “The Suicide Club,” which is not by the same writer at all. “Suicide” is one of the darker stories by Robert Louis Stevenson – which, considering he also penned “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” means it’s dark indeed.

I do not believe Hatcher’s Suicide Club is, as storytelling, Holmes at his best. At least in the Alley version, there’s a kind of tiredness hanging about the plot and characters, which otherwise seem interesting enough. As directed by Mark Shanahan and Alley artistic director Gregory Boyd, there never truly is the sense of looming danger that makes the original tales so much fun to read or watch. What we end up with is a standard-issue who-done-it with more than a few red herrings pursued upstream, but not ultimately a whole lot of suspense.

Waite delivers, without ever phoning it in, his well-refined portrayal of Holmes, the character’s proclivities toward cocaine and solitude now reduced to something like nudge-nudge, wink-wink. Holmes in his hands is certainly likable enough underneath all the attitude that we understand, as we must, why Watson keeps coming back around. As the good doctor, Sidney Williams is far less comically flustered than many who’ve handled the role, so that comes down to a matter of personal preference. Assuredly he tries to function as a frame or narrator for Hatcher’s and Stevenson’s story, though I’d still prefer to read an original in which every word, thought, observation and Holmes-ism is filtered through Watson.

A slew of Alley regulars fill a slew of lesser roles, led off by Jeffrey Bean as Suicide Club member Mr. Henry, who spends 99% of the play in a wheelchair, James Belcher as Mr. George, James Black as Mr. Richards and Melissa Pritchett as Mrs. Hudson. Elizabeth Bunch does a solid job of the basic acting as the allegedly French Christiane de LaBegassier, as does Jay Sullivan as the allegedly Russian Prince Nikita Starloff. Both had their accents come and go in a mildly annoying way, but then again, so did some of the actors playing British roles. Josie de Guzman labors mightily as the Suicide Club’s bizarrely coiffed Secretary, but with each new twist and turn of Hatcher’s plot she seems less and less believable.

If you love Sherlock Holmes, you really should see the Alley’s current production, running through June 23 on the Hubbard Stage. Whatever was your favorite Holmes thriller before now – and indeed, whoever was your favorite Holmes – seems an odds-on favorite to remain so.

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One Response to “Review of Alley’s New Sherlock Holmes”

  1. Sophie Proud July 8, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Really interesting article! Thank you for reviewing! 🙂

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