Matters of life and death are but flotsam and jetsam, but a riveting play packed with shocking twists and daring conclusions that, my dear readers, is a fine evening of theatre. Which, to put a finer point to it, one could call Colonial Players current production of Charles Marowitz’ Sherlock’s Last Case a resplendent recitation of theatrical trickery, mysterious mayhem, and vivacious Victorian debauchery all in one go and still be completely accurate, according to the facts as it were. Directed by Beth Terranova, this invigorating incarnation of the beloved, albeit obnoxious, detective and his bumbling, albeit brilliant sidekick, will have you gripping the rails of your seats until the rather dramatic and unexpected conclusion.
A mastermind of direction and Set Design, Beth Terranova lays out a set that speaks to her knowledge of the uniquely intimate space of the Colonial Players’ stage, a knowledge which proves to be more than just elementary. With all of the interior delicacies and accoutrements apropos to the Victorian era, Terranova puts the theatre-in-the-rectangle spin on the iconic parlor of the flat at Baker’s Street. This effusion of era-appropriate taste settles the production into its locale with a quaint and earnest hand and has the perfect balance of decorative festivity without overcrowding the play space.
Donning a deerstalker to sleuth out the appropriate wardrobe choices for the characters, Costume Designer Carrie Brady hits her mark with aplomb. Whether the traditional pressed suits for Doctor Watson or the fancy yet casual dressing robe haphazardly thrown over Holmes whilst lounging about Baker Street, Brady finds outfits that visually enhance the characters that the actors portray, making it worlds easier for the audience to identify them straightaway. Even the fitted, high-collared gray pinstripes on Liza Moriarty seem perfectly suitable for a woman of the era, another nod to Brady’s fine sleuthing skills when it comes to outfitting the cast.
Sound Designer Theresa Riffle authenticates the existence of Victorian London with the subtlest of sound effects. When the window at Baker Street is thrown open the hansom cabs can be heard trotting the cobblestones of the street below, the hooves of the horses echoing louder as they pass the window and then tapering off as they roll their way down an unseen street. Simple auditory ratio tricks like this one are employed throughout the production by Riffle, serving as a hyper extenuation of the scenic scape of the show overall. This allows the audience to delve fully into the show’s setting and go beyond the rectangular box of the play space, enhancing the journey to something theatrically magical.
As the show’s Director, Beth Terranova drives the suspense and mysterious airs of the performance in a timely fashion. The dialogue of a Holmesean-type show cannot be rushed but it cannot drag either for fear of losing interest among theatergoers. Terranova skillfully guides the show’s momentum through from the opening scene to the enigmatic conclusion, keeping the interests high and the humor earnest. Not without her own humors, Terranova finds little spots to push the performance as a send-up to Holmesean style stories, including an audio cue that reminds everyone listening of the law and the order of things.
Inspector Lestrade (Morey Norkin) and Mrs. Hudson (Lisa KB Rath) may have the most intentionally atrocious Scottish-Irish accent hybrids known to man but their simple comic timing and often blank stares— on Norkin’s part— or cheeky repartee— on Rath’s behalf— fits their characters in due course. Norkin brings a deceptively humorous absent presence to the bumbling and bungling character of the dimwitted inspector. Rath brings a brassy edge to her house-maid character that fits well amid the bristles and brushes of Holmes generally egocentric personality. Both supporting performers add levity and severity in the appropriate moments to the work overall.
Liza Moriarty (Erin Leigh Hill) the unsuspected daughter of the late great diabolical villain Professor Moriarty, figures into this wildly suspenseful thrill-ride, but how is the question. Therein is the rub. Hill’s performance as the delicate and winsome ingénue type is rather on point with the character’s description. Hill’s performance scope is experienced throughout the performance, but it’s her initial interactions with Holmes that add that subtle hilarity and romantic tension to the plot, moving it forward as such devices often do.
Dash it all, Watson! As played by the dynamically talented Nick Beschen, this is a Watson the exact likes of which everyone knows and pities, and simultaneously a new take on Watson the likes of which has never previously been seen. The brilliance that is often discarded in the character of Doctor John Watson— he is a Doctor from university after all— reflects blindingly in Beschen’s portrayal. Delivering a multifaceted portrayal, Beschen delves into the internal psyche of Watson and unearths rich and refreshing layers never previously experienced in the typical portrayal of the iconic sidekick role. His interactions with Holmes, particularly early on, are predictably enjoyable and speak to the long-standing relationship that the characters have amassed through the centuries.
As for our dashing detective, Sherlock Holmes (Jim Gallagher), he is every bit as cheeky, abrasive and damningly clever as one might expect him to be. Gallagher’s performance zings with sharpened comic wit, zaps with lubricity, and soars with a self-congratulatory resonance that anchors the character in everything Holmes ought to be. A pull from the novels and every film and stage adaptation, Gallagher has animated the ideal Holmes for this particularly peculiar case and delivers him with insurmountable gusto. With remarkable felicity in the facial expressions department, Gallagher deduces his way to the drastic conclusion one elementary step at a time.
A truly entertaining evening of theatre which portrays Holmes and Watson in a new, if dark and mysterious, light; the Colonial Players’ production of Sherlock’s Last Case is just the show for a little fall mystery and intrigue.
Running Time: 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission
Sherlock’s Last Case plays through September 26, 2015 at The Colonial Players of Annapolis— 108 East Street in historic Annapolis, MD. For tickets call the box office at (410) 268-7373 or purchase them online.