Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club
Desert Foothills Theater

Also see Gil's reviews of Oklahoma! and Brian Stokes Mitchell: Simply Broadway

Jeff Carpenter
Originally commissioned by the Arizona Theatre Company, who presented the play back in 2011, Jeffrey Hatcher's Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club is a well-written suspense play in which Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth finds himself in the middle of a group of men who wish to end their own lives. With twists and turns aplenty and a fine performance from Jeff Carpenter as Holmes, the production is receiving a serviceable, but still very fun, production from Desert Foothills Theater.

Based somewhat on a short story by Robert Louis Stevenson called "The Suicide Club," Hatcher's play does a good job of combining Doyle's well known characters with the scenario that Stevenson created. That setup introduces a group of gentlemen who are members of The Suicide Club. The members all use pseudonyms to hide their true identities, and while they all wish to end their lives, they all lack the courage to do the deed. So, the Club uses a simple game of picking billiard balls out of a hat, with the person who picks the black ball becoming the victim and the red ball the executioner. With one member relieving the suffering of the other and the death staged as a suicide, it appears to be a clean way of killing oneself when you don't quite have the nerve to do it yourself. Holmes stumbles into the club when he is hired by one of its members who wishes to back out of his membership. Multiple deaths and non-stop deduction ensue, with Hatcher creating a quite nifty play full of intrigue and director Amy Serafin achieving a nice balance between the few comic moments in the drama and several moments of suspense. You will most likely not be able to figure out just who the killer is until close to the very end. Since the period of the play is right before World War I, Hatcher has also written a clever final monologue for Holmes about how the real fear is not the fellow members of the Suicide Club but the one being crafted by the World Leaders around the globe.

Jeff Carpenter is quite good as Holmes, delivering a fine performance as the despondent detective. His body language throughout, whether he is sitting or standing, shows a man who is always deducing the situation around him, but with a clear amount of feigned indifference as well. It is a well thought out take on the famous character. Unfortunately, Joe Simon's portrayal of Holmes' sidekick Dr. Watson is very low-key and, while he adds a bit of humor to the role, he seems to not really attempt an English accent, which is a distraction. Anthony Maniscalco is the Russian man who seeks Holmes' help and Melissa Neiger his French girlfriend. Both bring the appropriate sense of determination of two people trying to find a way to get out of the predicament they are in.

The ensemble cast play multiple parts, some better than others. Donna Georgette brings a combination of mystery and menace to the club secretary while Zackary Diepstraten has a winning stage presence as the more outgoing member of the Club. Terry Hamilton's line delivery and demeanor have the right period style as the wheelchair-bound Mr. Henry. Matthew Harris employs two great accents as the German Mr. George and the British Inspector Micklewhite, and Andrea McFeely has a lot of fun as Mrs. Hudson and two other female characters. Unfortunately, beyond Harris and McFeely there is an almost complete lack of attention to accents throughout, with most of them inconsistent or absent, which is a bit of a letdown, or in the case of Maniscalco and Neiger, their thick accents make the dialogue almost unintelligible at points.

Director Amy Serafin keeps the play moving along at a nice clip, though there are plenty of times when she allows the play to breath appropriately. However, blocking is a bit of a challenge in a space like this, with the side audience sections wrapped a bit around the stage. And, since Serafin tends to stage almost all of the scenes with the cast pushed toward the front of the center audience and, in the many scenes with five or six characters, has almost all of them standing in a straight line, it means that people on the side, like myself, often struggled to hear dialogue when an actor had his back to us, which was quite often. Having the cast step back a foot or two, not in a straight line and projecting more, would allow people on the sides to see more of the characters' expressions and hear the dialogue better.

While costume designer Aurelie Flores has crafted some fetching and elaborate period perfect gowns for the women and crisp suits for the gents, set designer Thomas Underal has gone the minimalistic route. Underal uses projections to set the scenes along with a few chairs and tables, and it works for the most part, though I wish a couple of the more suspenseful moments had more elaborate sets or projections to make them even more effective. But, with the addition of Alex Cozza's impressive sound design and Daniel Kersh's evocative lighting, the moments involving murder and suspense still deliver.

Hatcher has written a suspenseful play with a few moments of humor and, even with a few shortcomings, the production at Desert Foothills Theater amounts to a fun time with a great performance by Carpenter as Holmes to help ground the whole experience.

Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club at Desert Foothills Theater runs through March 29th, 2015, at the Cactus Shadows Fine Art Center, 33606 N. 60th Street in Scottsdale. Tickets and information on upcoming shows can be found at or by calling 480 488-1981.

Directed by Amy Serafin
Stage Manager: Shannon Zavesky
Scenic Designer: Thomas Underal
Lighting Design: Daniel Kersh
Costume Design: Aurelie Flores
Sound Design: Alex Cozza
Assistant Stage Manager: Chris Haines

Sherlock Holmes: Jeff Carpenter
Dr. John Watson: Joe Simon
Nikita Starloff: Anthony Maniscalco
Christiane De LaBegassier: Melissa Neiger
Club Secretary: Donna Georgette
Mr. Williams/Mr. Roundy: Zackary Diepstraten
Mr. Richards/Mycroft: Greg James
Mr. George/Inspector Micklewhite: Matthew Harris
Mrs. Hudson/Lucy/Lady: Andrea McFeely
Mr. Henry: Terry Hamilton
Maid/Ensemble: Olivia Palmer

Photo: Tiffany Bolock / Desert Foothills Theater

--Gil Benbrook

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