The Colonial Players of Annapolis have opened their 67th season with Sherlock’s Last Case, a darkly-funny send-up of the famous sleuth, written by Charles Marowitz and directed by Beth Terranova.
Sherlock’s Last Case is a tough show to review without spoiling anything. This play has more twists than a rollercoaster; there’s so much deceit and double-crossing, even the program can’t be trusted!
The first act opens on Holmes and Watson sitting in the Baker Street apartment, the two men reflecting on Holmes’ recently deceased arch nemesis, Dr. Moriarty. Things have been a bit dull since the villains demise. The peace is broken swiftly, however. First, Mrs. Hudson leaves the duo after receiving word that a long lost relative is near death and has asked for her. Then, on the heels of that missive comes a second letter, this one addressed to Sherlock and promising revenge at the hands of Moriarty’s son, Simon. Things only get stranger when a second Moriarty scion arrives on Holmes’ doorstep; Liza, Simon’s twin sister, has come to warn Sherlock and beg him to help her calm her grief-maddened brother. All of this happens within just the first two scenes.
While today’s audiences have been treated to slightly more humanized versions of Sherlock Holmes thanks to the Guy Ritchie movies and Steven Moffat’s BBC adaptation, with Watson’s who are confident and competent in their own styles, Charles Marowitz’s versions hearken to an older model. Viewers familiar with the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes films will surely recognize their influence in both the script and in the performances. Only, because this is a comedy, the traits Marowitz focused on are dialed up to 11.
Jim Gallagher and Nick Beschen play Sherlock and Dr. Watson respectively and the two have great chemistry together. Gallagher’s Sherlock is witty, acerbic, and cavalier with the thoughts and feelings of others. His personality and ego as Holmes are nearly overwhelming, as they should be. Beschen’s Watson, reminiscent of Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of the character, is less of a companion and a bit more of a walking, talking conscience to the ego-centric Holmes. Beschen manages to strike a wonderful balance, for though Sherlock may be the more dominant character on stage, Watson is never far from our thoughts.
Filling out the rest of the cast is Lisa KB Rath as the long-suffering house-keeper, Mrs. Hudson. Rath has a wonderful Scottish accent and great comedic flair. She was an obvious favorite during Saturday night’s performance, garnering a host of laughs.
Erin Leigh Hill plays Liza Moriarty, daughter of the late Dr. Moriarty and a woman of great personal interest to Holmes. Given his history with women, it’s safe to assume that something about her is not what it seems, but what oh what could it be?
Morey Norkin plays Inspector Lestrade, whose earnest intentions to help are no match for the great Sherlock Holmes’ scorn. Aiden Jacobs, as a Sherlock look-a-like, and Casey Lee, as Damion Moriarty, join the show in the second act, when things start to get really convoluted.
Theresa Riffle’s sound design was one of my favorite aspects of the production. The musical selections strewn throughout the play are relevant to both the literary Sherlock, as well as the many adaptations made for the small and silver screens. Sherlock aficionados with sharp ears will have fun figuring out which compositions fit where in the extensive legacy of Sherlock Holmes. The music is not the only clever bit of sound design. The dripping of water in the cellar, and the clopping of hooves on pavement when a window opens are just a few of the subtle but potent sound effects.
Mary Butcher is the floor designer and scenic painter for the set. The floor is painted convincingly to resemble hardwood. Being theatre in the round, there are no curtains or backdrops; most of the stage is set to be the living room of 221B Baker Street, with chairs, desks, shelves and tables arranged in a circle. A smaller section of stage is left bare, to be filled when the detective goes to investigate a cellar.
The set is dressed in a dizzying array of props, the work of Properties Designer Constance Robinson. There are vials and crystal decanters, books, a tea service, a desk clock with a false back, and much more. All the pieces looked like something you could find an antique store, successfully reinforcing the plays Victorian time period, and giving Holmes’ bachelor pad a refined but lived-in look.
Alex Brady’s lighting design was similarly impressive, reinforcing atmosphere and successfully dividing the stage into separate sets without the aid of curtains and only minor changes to set pieces.
The costumes, designed by Carrie Brady, are of a Victorian style. The suits are well-tailored to the actors, as are the dresses. Bettyann Leesberg-Lane is the dialect coach for the production and she’s done great work.
The Colonial Players’ Sherlock’s Last Case is a wild ride, with a conclusion you won’t see coming, and a fabulous cast to get there with.
Running Time: Approximately two and a half hours, with one intermission.