Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Los Angeles

Mysterious CircumstancesGeffen Playhouse
Review by Terry Morgan

Alan Tudyk and Hugo Armstrong
Photo by Jeff Lorch
The old maxim states that truth is stranger than fiction, but sometimes truth isn't quite that bold and merely approaches the outlandishness of prose. Such is the case of Richard Lancelyn Green, the subject of a New Yorker article, a Sherlock Holmes expert who was found dead in his apartment in 2004, with the cause of murder or suicide never quite resolved. Michael Mitnick's play about this story, Mysterious Circumstances, is intriguing and witty, although it falters somewhat toward its conclusion, where the truth overrides the more satisfying fictions. It is receiving an outstanding world premiere production at the Geffen Playhouse, especially benefiting from Alan Tudyk's excellent lead performance and Matt Shakman's sharp and creative direction.

Richard (Alan Tudyk), a world-renowned Holmes scholar, has been looking for the "lost box" of author Arthur Conan Doyle (Austin Durant), which is thought to contain unseen stories, letters and an autobiography. It's Richard's Holy Grail, but other Holmes collectors, such as the American (Hugo Armstrong), are also actively seeking it. When Richard is unexpectedly contacted by Doyle's daughter, Dame Jean (Helen Sadler), he feels like his long-sought dream may be coming true. But not long after that, his life comes to an abrupt end.

Tudyk is terrific as the lonely and obsessed Richard, expert in all of his comedic scenes but also quietly moving in the moments when the character's longing for real human connection shines just below the surface. Durant is quite good as Doyle, both in amusing scenes as a successful author rebuffing his agent and also serious ones in which he struggles to deal with his wife's terminal illness. Hugo Armstrong and Leo Marks each excel in multiple roles, the former as the sinister-seeming American and especially as the kindly Doyle fan Gibner, and the latter as a chatty taxi driver and a somewhat threatening dentist. Ramiz Monsef is very good as the steadfast Watson and Richard's lover Henry, and Sadler does fine work as the elderly Dame Jean and Doyle's dying wife.

Shakman's direction is dazzling, from the impressive opening set piece ending in a vertical view of Richard dead on the floor to the seamless way he transitions from location to location, using all of the theatrical tools he has available masterfully. Brett J. Banakis' handsome library set creates an appropriately bibliophilic ambience, and Jonathan Snipes' original music (a percussive series of plucked strings) adds propulsive tension. Mitnick adds plenty of effective humor and incisive character writing to this fascinating true story, but the attempt to create a more positive ending (presumably so the audience can leave feeling happier) to what is essentially the tale of an unsolved death merely adds a few extraneous scenes.

Overall, however, this is a very entertaining and expertly produced show, and it should be a big hit for the Geffen Playhouse.

Mysterious Circumstances, through July 14, 2019, at Geffen Playhouse, 10886 Le Conte Ave, Los Angeles CA. For tickets and information, visit

Playwright: Michael Mitnick
Director: Matt Shakman
Lighting Designer: Elizabeth Harper
Scenic Designer: Brett J. Banakis
Sound Designer and Original Music: Jonathan Snipes
Costume Designer: E. B. Brooks

The American and others: Hugo Armstrong
Chester and others: John Bobek
Conan Doyle and others: Austin Durant
Smith and others: Leo Marks
Watson and others: Ramiz Monsef
Touie and others: Helen Sadler
Richard Lancelyn Green/Sherlock Holmes: Alan Tudyk