We read a book, a character is described, we form a mental picture: how she moves, the timbre of her voice, the look in her eye. Some descriptive power is so vivid—theatrical even—that it gives the casting department little wriggle room.
So says Jeffrey Hatcher, the writer of Kinetic Theatre’s newest production Holmes and Watson.
And Holmes? Holmes allows a certain amount of leeway, but he had better be tall, he had better be trim, with aquiline features not soft ones, and God help the actor with a pug nose. His voice must have the authority of intellect and empire, and his diction must cut diamonds.
This play manages to do something very playful, but honorific at the same time. It revamps the canon—the same time-honored tradition of this Elizabethan/Edwardian classic (Sherlock Holmes) but with a new candid script that plays on the trope of a well-established character (Sherlock Holmes). This is, in effect, META-HOLMES!!!!
The question, “Who is Sherlock Holmes?” has been asked countless times since the character first appeared in Arthur Conan Doyle’s A Study in Scarlet. Sometimes the question has to do with Holmes’ character or personality. Sometimes it’s about his background and upbringing. And since Holmes quickly became one of the most depicted characters in modern fiction, the question also has to do with how is he drawn, what features do the illustrators emphasize, who plays him on stage, in film, on television?
I can’t talk to you about the plot. The ol’ tract laid out as an imploring: “‘For the enjoyment of future audiences, we ask you not to reveal the surprising plot twists that occur in Holmes and Watson.” I will tell you based on the short synopses that you might find online, the plot has to do with uncovering who the real Sherlock Holmes might be. It’s a querulous deep dive into a well-excavated, near forgotten genre that nevertheless has bulky roots in our understanding of the detective tropes. To create something new out of an already was and always will be is not easy, and this play humbly relies on the audiences pre-conceptions meeting the traditional game of Detection!
I will tell you that this is an indelible thrill ride into an era where the mystery-thriller was new. The game of trying to upend the convoluted plot before the ending was cascading through the anxious energy in the crowd. The entire ensemble commits to the accent game well, with aplomb. Everyone is comfortably cast, blessed with the ability to handle the gravity of the Victorian highfalutin’ with the comic timing for what could be considered light intrigue, a splash of the farce.
This play is fun. It commits itself well to its bygone era. The utilization of New Hazlett’s space is always a curious treat. With two-tiers of catwalks and multiple entry-points, it gives to the wondrous splay of perspective. In a play that relies on the accountability of the sharp eye, but constantly leads askew with plenty of unreliable narration; the use of space was a key character in this telling. Hence the farce, because the situational comedy of things playing then replaying arcs you, the audience, into the investigation.
I’d say this play is for and of itself. I mean it is not imposing any messaging, or any sense of bastardizing what is very much a canonized concept. It’s simply what it is: a well-played plot and you as a player in its discovery. It is refreshing, this classic, with a new plot and a new life to the sensation of ‘figuring it out’. Stand out performance by Tim McGeever whose comic timing as what I would consider very much a straight man role plays upon the levity as situations find themselves absurd. David Whalen is quite enjoyable as his role (Holmes #2, I’ll say no more), playing on the potential for bodily comedy and with a nuance that stands him out in his respective Holmes-role for provoking more questions than may have been intended for the character. The entire ensemble works very well, with a sporty kind of chemistry, illustrated in the craft of the staged mystery—quick-paced, withholding substance and steady, punchy timing.
I’ll call it neo-elementary. It’s a nice stock surprise refurbished with a new set of exploding expectation.
Holmes and Watson runs at the New Hazlett Theatre through March 4. For tickets and more information click here.
Photos by Rocky Raco
Categories: Archived Reviews