Now extended thru November 27!
Smart and engaging female-driven world premiere
|Lifeline Theatre presents|
Review by Lauren Whalen
The first reaction I had to Miss Holmes was one of relief. I’ve never been a die-hard fan of Sherlock Holmes, but what struck me about Lifeline’s gender role-reversed adaptation was this: two middle-aged women were the central characters, yet the play wasn’t about depression, taking care of elderly parents and/or terrible children, or cancer. One of the aforementioned characters had a love interest, but he was almost an afterthought. The core of Miss Holmes is two smart, capable women solving a mystery, and its strong writing and acting make up for its sometimes misguided production values.
In nineteenth century London, Dr. Dorothy Watson (Mandy Walsh) is doing her part to help the women of London with their health, while fighting the obstacles that come with being a woman in an overwhelmingly male profession. Meanwhile, the oddly-named Sherlock Holmes (Katie McLean Hainsworth) has just been released from yet another mental institution, ostensibly in the care of her well-meaning but overbearing brother Mycroft (Chris Hainsworth). When Sherlock learns of a corrupt police officer (John Henry Roberts), who may have murderous designs on his latest wife (Kate Nawrocki), the socially awkward but brilliant detective enlists the help of Dr. Watson, as part of her self-induced quest to protect the wife, a scared former mother-in-law (Abie Irabor), and London’s marginalized female population.
Miss Holmes is a Lifeline world premiere written by ensemble member Christopher M. Walsh, who earned a Jeff nomination for his adaptation of A Tale of Two Cities. Though it’s ostensibly a good old-fashioned detective story, Miss Holmes is also a play about sisterhood. Both Sherlock and Dr. Watson have endured their share of sexism. Dr. Watson, unable to complete her medical studies at home, resorted to a secret job and an international move – and yet her would-be fiancé still thinks she’d be happier running a household. Sherlock has spent much of her adult life committed, at first of the behest of parents who worry her intellectualism is too stressful, and then under the control of her brother. Once she’s out (again), Sherlock resolves to help other women out of abusive relationships with less-than-stellar men. Without banging the audience over the head with Feminism 101, playwright Walsh creates two intelligent, empathetic female leads who don’t subscribe to traditional ideas of happiness. Both McLean Hainsworth and Walsh relish the complex characterization (and a fair amount of stage combat) as they lovingly bring these astounding characters to life.
Though director Paul S. Holmquist does an excellent job with his actors, I do wish he had picked up the pace just a bit. Despite its British murder mystery setting, Miss Holmes’ action tends to drag. (In turn, Walsh could have cut back some of the longer scenes.) Costume designer Rachel M. Sypniewski creates a lovely, muted color palette worthy of Masterpiece Theatre, though Nawrocki’s bright red hair sticks out like a sore thumb and tended to take me out of the moment. The most obvious flaws of Miss Holmes are twofold: the lighting design, and the fog. While it’s understandable that such a story would warrant low, spooky lighting, Jordan Kardasz’s design is so incredibly dark that at times actors’ faces are partially obscured. (Also, I worried about their safety going up and down the set’s staircase.) And the fog effects are simply excessive, obscuring nearly every scene. Finally, while some of Elise Kauzlaric’s dialect coaching is quite effective and natural, a handful of the minor characters sound like they’re concentrating on getting every syllable correctly, rather than adapting the speech as their own.
Despite its technical shortcomings, Miss Holmes is a refreshing portrayal of the classic detective on Baker Street. McLean Hainsworth and Walsh are wily, mature leading ladies with lots of experience on full display, and Walsh’s script is funny, suspenseful and ultimately moving. Hopefully the Chicago theater community will see more quality female-driven stories like this in the season to come.
Miss Holmes continues through
October 30th November 27th at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood (map), with performances Thursdays & Fridays 7:30pm, Saturdays 4pm & 8pm, Sundays 4pm. Tickets are $40 (seniors/military: $30, students/rush: $20), and are available by phone (773-761-4477) or online through PrintTixUSA.com (check for half-price tickets at Goldstar.com). More information at LifelineTheatre.com. (Running time: 2 hours 15 minutes, includes an intermission)
Photos by Suzanne Plunkett
Katie McLean Hainsworth (Sherlock Holmes), Mandy Walsh (Dr. Dorothy Watson), Chris Hainsworth (Mycroft Holmes), LaQuin Groves (Edwin Greener, Superintendent), Abie Irabor (Mrs. Hudson, Dr. Elizabeth Garrett, Eudora Featherstone), Christopher W. Jones (Inspector Lestrade), Kate Nawrocki (Lizzie Chapman, Peggy, Martha), Michael Reyes (Dr. Michael Stamford, Reginald), John Henry Roberts (Thomas Chapman), Rasell Holt, Jhenai Mootz, Siobhan Reddy-Best, Tim Newell, Timothy Sullivan (understudies)
behind the scenes
Paul S. Holmquist (director), Rachel M. Sypniewski (costume design), Emily Wills (assistant director), Ashley Ann Woods (scenic design), Elise Kauzlaric (dialect coach), Maren Robinson (dramaturg), Becky Bishop (stage manager), Morgan Gire (assistant stage manager), Andrew Hansen (original music, sound design), Lavina Jadhwani (casting director), Jordan Kardasz (lighting design), Holly McCauley (properties design), Sam Moryoussef (master electrician), Greg Poljacik (fight choreographer), Joe Schermoly (technical director), Suzanne Plunkett (photos)