Review: IRT's 'Sherlock Holmes'

September 22, 2008
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Neither engagingly mysterious or particularly thrilling, “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure,” the season opener for the Indiana Repertory Theatre (running through Oct. 11) offers a handsome but passionless production that lacks either a convincing threat or a committed style.

Despite quality, uphill-battle work by Mark Goetzinger as Dr. Watson and Ryan Artzberger as a second-tier villain, there just doesn’t seem to be anything at stake—which is curious for a show that begins with the reported death of the famed title character.

In Steven Dietz’s pick-and-choose adaptation of an 1899 play based, in turn, on a pair of Holmes stories (plus bits from others), flashbacks reveal how Holmes and pal Watson attempt to trap archvillain Moriarty while also aiding the King of Bohemia in an effort to recover a photo that could lead to blackmail.

When it isn’t rambling, the play relies too heavily on coincidence and see-through disguises, robbing audiences of the fun of trying to piece together a solution from available evidence (a key pleasure in mysteries). The lack of engagement in the whodunit would be fine if the mystery were replaced by thrills, humor, or romance, none of which are in residence here.

Not helping matters: A miscast heroine, staging with too many opportunities for this criminal mastermind to take out Holmes, an unbelievable unawareness of the weapons on hand, and an ending that is as perfunctory as the hand-popping-from-the-grave in the movie “Carrie.”

In digging through comments on previous productions of the play, I found reference to awe-inspiring staging of the climactic battle over a waterfall. Here, the matter is handled without inspiration or excitement.

Without such must-see design moments, spellbinding performances or pleasure-filled script, why did the IRT bother?

That, like Holmes' final act, remains a mystery.
  • Wow. Being a mystery fan and a theatre fan I obviously had my eye on this. Yet after that review. Whoa. I know a local group of Sherlockians (The Illustrious Clients) are planning to go together and see this . I'll be very curious to hear their take on the play and I'll try to get them to post a response here.
  • Thanks Austin.
    I would love to hear their thoughts on the show.
  • Like many mystery plays, it may tend to be a love-it, or hate-it proposition - Whitney Smith from the Star seemed to enjoy it, and I've heard good things about the set and cast from other performers in town. I'm seeing it tonight, and will be interested to see where my opinion falls on the continuum.
  • Oh, man, I _LOVED_ this show! My review is not up on my blog yet but will be soon.

    Austin, I had an extra ticket to opening night and I thought of asking you to go with me because it seemed such a perfect fit but I assumed you would be out of town. With all due respect to Lou, if you get a chance to go with the Sherlockians, you must go!

    Hope Baugh
  • A bit harsh review -- there was mystery but it was also funny and not overly dramatic, which made us appreciate and enjoy it all the more. Glad the IRT did this version of a traditional character that brought together both mystery and humor, rather than just leave it a typical cloak-and-dagger version. Well done and appreciated.
  • My 86 year old Dad and I attended the play last night. We enjoyed it very much. We especially found it a fresh change from typical contemporary plays. Costuming was fun, staging was distracting, too much back and forth tracking especially the upper grilled platform. Dad and I found the King very difficult to understand. That being said, we were glad we attended it. It motivated our lively discussion of Nigel Bruce as Dr. Watson and Basil Rathbone as Holmes, and other Watson and Holmes portrayals. I liked IRT's Dr. Watson a lot, and Dad liked IRT's Holmes a lot. Watch out Basil and Nigel!

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