BWW Review: SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE: Anything But Elementary
Sherlock's Last Case
Written by Charles Marowitz, Directed by Maria Aitken; Scenic Design, Hugh Landwehr; Costume Design, Fabio Toblini; Lighting Design, Philip S. Rosenberg; Sound Design, Mic Pool; Production Stage Manager, Kevin Schlagle; Stage Manager, Alycia Marucci; Fight Consultant, Ted Hewlett; Dialect Coach, Amelia Broome
It doesn't take a detective to figure out that Sherlock's Last Case was written by someone other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but playwright Charles Marowitz has done a superb job of following the template of a traditional Sherlock Holmes story with the requisite twists and turns that pay homage to the detective's brilliant mind. However, even Holmes is tested by unforeseen events in the plot, and the audience is on tenterhooks awaiting his fate. His sidekick, Dr. John Watson, and Inspector Lestrade from Scotland Yard are standing by to assist, but there's a new nemesis in London seeking revenge. Has Holmes met his match, or will he live to sleuth again?
There is so much I want to tell you that I cannot because you really must see this for yourself and have the opportunity to match wits with the perpetrator or perpetrators of the crime in question. What I can tell you is that there is much fun afoot in this cleverly written, earnestly acted, and crisply directed play being revived on the main stage at the Huntington Theatre Company. Sherlock's Last Case had its world premiere in 1984 in Los Angeles before transferring to Broadway for a short run in 1987 with Frank Langella in the lead role. Huntington stalwart Maria Aitken returns to direct a tightly-synched cast with Rufus Collins (Holmes) and Mark Zeisler (Watson) as the long-time companions.
Describing the pair as such is to indicate that Last Case takes place in 1897 when the two men have been working together and solving crimes for a very long time. Their interplay is evocative of an old married couple, with Holmes holding court and expecting Watson to dote on him, while the latter subtly lets us know that he is the long-suffering partner. In fact, Holmes is quite insufferable and full of himself, not only with Watson, but also with his loyal housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Jane Ridley, delightful) and Lestrade (Malcolm Ingram). Social niceties are not his forte, even when Holmes would like to impress an attractive young woman who pays hims a call. In spite of the fact that Liza (Antoinette Robinson) is the offspring of his archenemy, the late Professor Moriarty, she is capable of turning the detective's head and convincing him to go along with her plan to smoke out her brother Simeon who has sent Holmes a letter threatening his life.
Thereon hangs the mystery as Holmes and Watson agree to a meeting with Simeon in a remote, dank dungeon, where Holmes is convinced he will have the upper hand by arriving hours ahead of the scheduled time. However, away from the comforts of the plush parlor at 221B Baker Street, unexpected dangers lurk in the shadowy underground den where the plot encounters hairpin turns, surprising participants and observers alike. When the curtain falls at the end of act one, there is cause to wonder what magic Marowitz has up his sleeve to keep us enthralled for the second act. Not to worry.
Sherlock's Last Case is equally driven by character and plot, with an able assist from an outstanding team of designers. Hugh Landwehr's concept of Holmes' parlor is so spot on that the set received applause when the curtain went up on opening night. The dungeon set is very spooky and atmospheric, as well, with Philip S. Rosenberg's lighting design being especially effective, and Mic Pool contributing some potent sound effects. Fabio Toblini's costume designs include the de rigueur half-caped coat and deerstalker cap for Holmes, detailed Victorian dress for Liza, and appropriate professional attire for Watson.
Aitken puts her distinctive stamp on the Huntington production, accounting for every little detail. I daresay that if you could examine every inch of the set and every acting choice with a magnifying glass, you would not find a seam. The importance of that quality cannot be overstated, especially in a play that relies on the ability of the actors to be convincing us of one thing while something else entirely is looming in the wings. Both Collins and Zeisler inhabit their well-known fictional characters from the first clue until the last, with strong support from Ridley, Robinson, and Ingram. They have the knack of playing it straight with just enough tongue in cheek to keep us guessing right up to the end.