Holmes and Watson
Minimalist staging allows actors the room to bring stories to life
|City Lit Theater presents|
|Holmes and Watson|
Review by Keith Glab
Originally produced at City Lit Theater back in 2006, Holmes and Watson adapts two of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most prolific Sherlock Holmes short stories to the stage. “A Scandal in Bohemia” represents the very first of Coyle’s short stories concerning Holmes, following the publication of two novels featuring the character. City Lit bookends this tale with “The Final Problem,” which Coyle intended to mark Holmes last ever story. (It was not).
Adapter/director Terry McCabe takes a minimalist approach to these pieces. A subtle London silhouette backdrop enhances a set that features nothing more than a table and three modern-looking chairs. Not much lighting or sound effects accompany the action; McCabe relies upon Doyle’s revered writing and a talented trio of actors to bring these stories to life.
Of theses three performers, Adam Bitterman does most of the heavy lifting. True to Doyle’s writings, Bitterman narrates the events as Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ regular Clive sidekick. Bitterman also naturally appears as a main character in the events themselves, doubles as the gregarious King of Bohemia in the first story, plus briefly dons perhaps a dozen more faces or voices in the crowd as needed. Bitterman realizes all these characters without any costume changes and delivers a strong, charismatic performance of Coyle’s Everyman.
James Sparling underplays the Great Detective, relying upon Holmes’ extraordinary accomplishments to speak for themselves. He contrasts this by portraying Sherlock’s arch-nemesis Professor James Moriarty as a goblin-like caricature. Given the static nature of this production, the latter portrayal works better to engage the audience.
Adrienne Matzen rounds out the cast as the exceedingly clever blackmailer, Irene Adler. Matzen exudes a subtle confidence that makes Sherlock’s admiration of her easily believable. It’s a shame that we don’t get to see more of her onstage.
While this minimalist production proves that you still don’t need anything beyond good writing and strong actors to create compelling theatre, I can’t help but think that a few bells and whistles would enhance the experience for a modern audience. Perhaps this traditional retelling of Doyle’s work is intended to contrast with the two popular TV re-imaginings currently setting the stories in the present day. Regardless, the small cast and nominal production values must leave some audience members wondering whether they should hire Sherlock himself to investigate where precisely their nearly $30 ticket prices are going towards.
As good of a job as the cast does with this piece, there were enough line stumbles on the night I attended to prove distracting. I also pined for less exposition towards the audience and more interaction between the characters. That all said, Sherlock Holmes enthusiasts won’t be disappointed with this simple, traditional realization of two of Doyle’s greatest tales.
Holmes and Watson continues through December 14th at City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr (map), with performances Thursdays-Saturdays at 7:30pm, Sundays 3pm. Tickets are $25-$29, and are available by phone (773-293-3682) or online through BrownPaperTickets.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at CityLitTheater.wix.com. (Running time: 1 hour 40 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Tom McGrath
behind the scenes
Terry McCabe (director, adaptor), Ross G. Hoppe (set design), Tom Rusnak (lighting design), Robert Steel (sound design, original music), LaVisa Angela Williams (costume design), Hazel Marie Flowers-McCabe (stage manager), Catherine Gillespie (dialect coach), Tom McGrath (photos)