BWW Review: The Heart-Pounding HOLMES & WATSON Brings Murder-Mystery Drama to the Milwaukee Repertory Theater
Suspense, plot twists, believability, a dash of humor, a satisfying finale - that's what successful murder-mysteries are made of. When a play possesses all of these hallmarks and even boasts the company of everyone's favorite detective, Sherlock Holmes, a surefire hit seems elementary, my dear Watson. So what of Holmes & Watson, a new drama making its midwest debut at the Milwaukee Repertory Theater?
Let's examine the evidence, starting with a spoiler-free gist of the play by writer Jeffery Hatcher: Following Sherlock Holmes' "death" at Reichenbach Falls, Dr. Watson must travel far and wide to disprove the many charlatans who now claim to be the real Sherlock. When we meet Watson, he has just been called to a remote mental asylum housing three men, each claiming to be the late detective and matching his physical description. Now it's up to the sidekick to solve the mystery and determine which of the three gentleman, if any, is the real Sherlock Holmes.
Without giving anything away, I can safely say that although Holmes & Watson is a new work, it's still a mystery that plays out as other classics of this genre tend to - with all the aforementioned suspense and plot twists. My theater date and I shared more than one suspicious, nervous, or wide-eyed glance over the course of the play. At one point I even gasped and grabbed his arm for dear life - a testament to the caliber of acting, directing, and writing on display.
There really isn't a sour apple in the bunch, as far as actors go. The three Sherlocks are especially fun to watch, probably because it's always a treat to see someone new don the iconic - and in this case, figurative - double-brimmed hat. Ryan Imhoff plays a Sherlock most akin to Benedict Cumberbatch's quick-witted, brooding BBC iteration - and he's tall, dark, and handsome to boot. Grant Goodman gives us a straight-jacketed Sherlock, crazed but smart and convincing in his portrayal's originality.
I have to say my favorite of the three goes to Rex Young, whose deaf, mute, and blind Sherlock held my attention in a sort of straight jacket of its own. Now that's stage presence. Norman Moses delivers a solid, likable Dr. Watson, though I must admit there were times in the doctor's investigation that lagged just a little. With an 80-minute, intermission-free show, one would hope to be on the very edge of one's seat for each precious moment.
Still, I'd argue that almost every classic murder-mystery suffers from a smidgeon of wordy exposition - a momentary detour from the suspense. But when those suspenseful moments present themselves in Holmes & Watson, they'll have you holding your breath and clutching your neighbor's arm. To me, that's what makes this drama feel like a new classic - one that lovers of traditional Sherlock Holmes will no doubt enjoy.
One final favorite I have to acknowledge: The remarkable staging and set design, as well as direction by the Milwaukee Rep's former Artistic Director, Joseph Hanreddy. The multilevel set mixes practical effects - mainly, chilling mists - and multimedia projections to flesh out the scenes to marvelous effect.
So what's the final verdict? As the house lights came on after the wonderfully dizzying final scene, my cohort and I left the theater saying, "That was fun!" If you ask me, that's just what an evening of "whodunnit?" should be.