Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure
Also see Bob's review of Woman Before a Glass
The last production of the Fortieth Anniversary season at the Repertory Theater of St. Louis is Steven Dietz's remake of the only play Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes. The plot is a blending of several tales, mainly "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Adventure of the Final Problem." This particular mixture allows us to see Holmes in two particularly dramatic relationships. The first is with the great and beautiful diva Irene Adler, who is as intelligent as she is talented. Holmes is as inept at speaking of love as he is at understanding the female sensibility, and the ingenuity with which he engineers Miss Adler's (and his own) escape from a perilous situation creates sharp contrasts that open the play to outright comedy – a quality not frequently found in the stories and novels of Conan-Doyle. The second relationship, equally fascinating for the ways in which it distorts our notions of normalcy, is Holmes' interaction with his nemesis, the evil Professor Moriarty. Part of the oddity of this relationship has to do with Holmes' desire to catch the elusive Professor red-handed, but there is a great deal about it – the formalities of address, for instance -- that can only be explained by the odd code of "gentlemanly behavior" that upper-class Edwardians apparently subscribed to.
Just as the language of the Holmes stories seems overly formal and even stuffy to twenty-first century ears, the bearing of the characters of this play may seem stiff and self-conscious, and the pace of the production seem jerky. Long sequences of slowly gathering tension are followed by explosive and often confusing action under cover of distractions such as smoke bombs, police whistles or sudden darkness. There is really no suspense to speak of; the evening begins with a preview of the final scene, and even the last twist of the plot is underplayed.
What the play has, and has in abundance, is the character of Holmes, here certainly light-years from the heroic version portrayed in films by Basil Rathbone. Dietz's Holmes is damaged goods, a woefully asocial man whose only joy in life, aside from the solution of puzzles, is in his seven-percent solution of opiates. Joris Stuyck plays this character with authority, even in the play's sometimes jarring comic scenes. Howard Kaye's reading of Dr. Watson, Conan-Doyle's good-hearted but bumbling narrator, is right on the money. Brandy Burre, as Irene, and Michael Haworth, as the despicable Moriarty, have less work to do, since both characters are one-dimensional, but give energetic and appealing performances nonetheless.
The production's other strong point is atmosphere. Neil Patel's settings are splendidly evocative of the Edwardian period, and Elizabeth Covey's costumes are pitch perfect, though some may be disappointed that the Holmesian deerstalker cap makes only one brief appearance. Robert Wierzel's lighting and Matt Callahan's sound design also deserve applause.
In summary, the Repertory Theater of St. Louis's production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure is quirky and unconventional, but beautifully evocative of the atmosphere of the period and an interestingly different take on the character of the master sleuth. The show will run through April 15th; for ticket information call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.