BWW Review: Sherlock Holmes Fans Will Flock to MYSTERIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
What happens when you have a myriad of characters all played by six actors crossing back and forth from one locale to another in two different eras? Two things. Technical brilliance, but not without its share of confusion. Let's start at the beginning.
Richard Lancelyn Green (Alan Tudyk), the foremost scholar of Sherlock Holmes (also Alan Tudyk), wished to write a novel about Sir Conan Doyle (Austin Durant), creator of Holmes and Doctor Watson (Ramiz Monsef), but realized he must first find Doyle's missing letters, manuscripts and papers, valued at over four million dollars. Green was obsessed and did a relentless search. When it was announced that the papers were stolen and put up for public auction, he created a major disturbance by attempting to stop the auction. What followed were a series of threats against his life. In 2004 he was found dead, face down on his bed, garrotted by a shoelace. Was it murder or suicide?
This is how the world premiere play opens at the Geffen. Green is found dead. Michael Mitnick's fast paced script takes the audience from 2004 back to 1894 with Doyle, and the characters of Sherlock Holmes and Watson ... alive and investigating a crime...which turns out to be the supposed murder of Green. Fictional men become real right before our eyes, and time periods mesh together without rhyme or reason. Not only that but actors play several characters. Alan Tudyk, for example, plays both Green and Holmes. Helen Sadler, the only female in the cast, essays the role of Touie, the ailing daughter of Doyle as well as several other female .. and male roles. Under Matt Shakman's tight direction, the action moves at lightning speed, but for some reason, despite the taut pacing and Mitnick's infusion of humor, Green's murder investigation seems of lesser priority ... and seems to get lost by the end of Act One. We start to wonder what direction the play is taking. On a positive note, Act Two picks the murder case up again, right at the top. Never a dull moment!
What thrills Sherlock Holmes fans is his vibrant presence laced with all the fun and delicious comments about life, the arts, science and mankind that we have expected from the Holmes we have come to love from the pages of Doyle's books. At one moment we are in Doyle's manse in 1894 and the next with Green over a century later, yet watching the two communicate with each other as if they really shared the same time and space. The technology behind them is amazing. Brett J. Banakis' set design, projection design by Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson and illusions by Francis Menotti and David Kwong add so much to propelling the storytelling into what appears another dimension. Kudos as well to sound design and original music by Jonathan Snipes, lighting by Elizabeth Harper and of course wonderful period costume design by E. B. Brooks is equally astonishing.
Under Shakman's sensational direction the entire ensemble give incredible performances. Tudyk as both Green and Holmes steals every moment. The other actors Durant, Monsef and Sadler plus Hugo Armstrong as the American and others, John Bobek as Chester and others, and Leo Marks as Smith and others prove just how much a great ensemble effort this is. When Holmes is describing to Watson how Green wrapped the shoelace around his neck in suicide or someone else did it in murdering him, we are treated to the actor's brilliant display on the floor of inching up and down in an array of twists and turns...but wait a minute, Tudyk is playing Holmes in full view, so who is essaying Green's body on the floor from behind? We realize another actor stepped in to play Green at this moment. Just one example of amazing ensemble work at play!
Act One has its confusing moments, but Act Two more than makes up for any flaws with a magical display of artistry. Who killed Richard Lancelyn Green? Does it really matter? By play's end, we have been deliciously entertained and dazzled by the momentous theatrical display of Mysterious Circumstances. We're on a delightful high like after reading an engrossing mystery. Don't miss it!
(photo credit: Jeff Lorch)
Mysterious Circumstances/by Michael Mitnick/inspired by The New Yorker article "Mysterious Circumstances, the Strange Death of a Sherlock Holmes Fanatic" by David Grann/directed by Matt Shakman/Geffen Playhouse, Gil Cates Theater/through July 14