BWW Review: Can You Solve the Mystery of HOLMES, SHERLOCK, AND THE CONSULTING DETECTIVE?
Unbound Productions producers Jonathan Josephson, Paul Millet and Jeff G. Rack have already proven they can create smart theatre based on classical literature. Their wildly popular Wicked Lit horror series at Mountain View Mausoleum has developed a loyal legion of fans who keep coming back year after year for the annual must-see event.
Now they've taken their outdoor immersive theatre concept and expanded into the mystery genre, mounting their first major production under the moniker Mystery Lit with HOLMES, SHERLOCK AND THE CONSULTING DETECTIVE. Written by Josephson, directed by Millet, and designed by Rack, it combines three of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mysteries into one epic whodunit. Most intriguing is that it delves into the question of how Holmes might actually solve his cases in a roguishly handsome production that capitalizes on the unique attributes of its location and whip-smart abilities of its cast.
That site is the Los Angeles Arboretum's historic Santa Anita Train Depot and it's a beaut. Where Wicked Lit uses the mausoleum to achieve a spooky effect, the train depot plays into the dark and foggy night intrigue of Victorian England. It's a surprisingly versatile canvas on which to sculpt the play and as this is the first time theatre has been done here, you never know what to expect next; perfect for an evening of mystery and mayhem.
Josephson's clever script follows three threads based on Doyle's A Scandal in Bohemia, The Adventure of the Copper Beeches, and The Red-Headed League neatly inserting humor and a subtle hint of sensuality into the otherwise cerebral world of sleuthing. Millet's fluid staging provides plenty of dramatic tension in its varying rhythms, and his choice of audience vantage points facilitates both clarity of storyline and an active engagement with the characters.
As an example, for the first scene I stood at a railing three feet away from one set of characters, quite by chance, and found that my investment in their predicament throughout the evening was significantly heightened because of it. The audience moves through multiple locations in a little under two hours led by four Scotland Yard Bobbies as guides. Every detail has been taken into consideration and the resulting experience could well be the best theatre you'll see this summer.
The cast includes several new faces to the company and a majority of Wicked Lit veterans who are exceedingly skilled at this style of storytelling. With three detectives on the case, much of the fun is seeing how Richard Large (Holmes), Chairman Barnes (The Consulting Detective) and Paul Romero (Sherlock) craft vastly different versions of the character.
Where Large tends toward a more professorial approach, Barnes is quick to find the quirks. Silver-tongued Romero couldn't be any more suited to Sherlock than if he had time traveled here from the late 1800s, and Joe Camareno (Dr. Watson) is the perfect foil who narrates and connects the audience to the action, lest they lose their way.
Jena Hunt sparkles in her spirited double turn as Irene Adler and Violet Hunter. Hannah Whiteoak's husky-throated Clara Huggins adds a unique color to the piece, and watching Kevin Dulude's (Merryweather, et al) curious take on even the most insignificant character or smallest moment never gets old. The work is detailed and delightful throughout the ensemble.
Resident costume designer Christine Cover Ferro's period-specific costumes are stunning in the lamplight shadows of Hilda Kane's moody lighting. One of the many breathtaking images is of Hunt (as Irene Adler) in profile between the gates as the fog swirls around her. It captures the tone of the whole experience in a single silhouette while the sound of crickets and night birds linger in the background.
Rack has also created a dual-purpose theatre set for Act II that carries quite a reveal. The massive structure is built into a clearing and, while you can see it there the entire night, what they do with it and how they approach it makes a huge impact on both audience and plot by the time we get to the final scenes. It's hard to describe but really cool in the moment.
This new genre of site-specific classical literature-turned-theatre is an impressive step in Unbound Productions' evolution. Fresh, new, and unlike anything you've seen from them yet, the game is most certainly afoot and you don't want to miss your chance to get in on the fun.
MYSTERY LIT: Holmes, Sherlock and the Consulting Detective
June 2 - July 1, 2017
Santa Anita Train Depot @ Los Angeles County Arboretum
159 S Baldwin Ave, Arcadia, CA 91007
Tickets, directions & detailed information: UnboundProductions.org
Photo credit: Heidi Marie Photography