Review: SHERLOCK HOLMES CONFIDENTIAL at Desert Ensemble Theatre

There is no mystery here! Three actors were caught running away with a priceless & humorous hit at DET.

By: Apr. 13, 2024
Review: SHERLOCK HOLMES CONFIDENTIAL at Desert Ensemble Theatre
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There is no mystery here. Desert Ensemble Theatre has three stars playing a superb game of “Who Done It?” – but, in this case, the Who Done It is much more about who is running away with the show. When you watch a good tennis match and the players are equally stunning in their abilities – it is exciting, because you suddenly find yourself rooting for each player to WIN.  Go see SHERLOCK HOLMES CONFIDENTIAL and you will see a professional game of volley between three skilled actors.

The story is about a young Doctor Watson (Justin Ledesma) and an even more socially awkward younger Sherlock Holmes (Alex Price) meeting and deciding to share a flat at 221 B. Baker Street, the London residence owned by Mrs. Hudson (Barbara Kerr).  Nora Tate (Katrina Dixon) another tenant in the building and Leicester/ Sanders (Larry Dyekman) round out the cast.

To tell you anything more would spoil the plot... and it is too delicious a journey to diminish by giving too many details. So, I’ll merely tell you: In this fast-paced battle of wits – an alternative version of the Holmes origin story – revenge leads to someone threatening to unmask the young detective as a fraud. Now go see it.

Director/ Executive producer Jerome Elliott Moskowitz focused his efforts on all the right moments. Keeping it light and knowing when the comedic button was to be punched. He knew that his three stars could handle such a wonderful task to bring this script to life. Often allowing the audience in on the joke by breaking the fourth wall with a look or a playful expression – he entrusted his three lead actors with most of that subtle interaction towards the darkened house, and they easily made the most of it with style.

Tony Padilla fashioned together a uniquely thin plot, but one that holds together with great strength and humor. SHERLOCK HOLMES CONFIDENTIAL is the ninth of Padilla’s original works produced by DET in its 13 seasons. I have read and seen other theatrical Sherlock Holmes attempts to outwit and out-write Scottish author Arthur Conan Doyle  -- all dismal failures. Why is this one so different?  Another mystery! I can’t tell you... but, I can say – There is so much going for it. Go see this production and uncover the many wonderful reasons for yourself.

Here are three reasons that stand out for me:

Price as the intelligent, but naïve, Sherlock Holmes steals a quarter of the show for himself. New at the game of intrigue and detective solving his almost childish outbursts when the case isn’t going as planned – hilariously funny. Even when he is directed to act over the top it’s with the purist of truth and deft handling... Not a single mug shot that wasn’t earned. I’ve watched this young actor finally swimming in a much more professional pool of talent and taking to the high dive like a champion... and it shows greatly in his work.

The legendary character, Holmes, refers to himself as a "consulting detective" in his stories, and is known for his proficiency with observation, deduction, forensic science, and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic, which he employs when investigating cases for a wide variety of clients, including Scotland Yard. Only this time... with hilarious results.

Ledesma is another fine actor who steals a quarter of the show for himself. Coupled with Price the two pump energy into Watson and Holmes  – at times like a bickering old married couple – and you can see in this early stage of their friendship why they remained living together in the legendary stories for 17 years.  These two actors take no prisoners when it comes to comedic timing and the sarcastic banter written for them to deliver.

The character of Watson, as written, is modest and intelligent. He is a patient and sensitive observer, but his detecting capabilities are no match for the lightning-swift deductive reasoning of Holmes. Yeah, until now... Oops, I’ve said too much.

Kerr as Hudson elevates the acting bar even higher from her first entrance.  The wise deal-making Landlady commands the stage and her total control over our heroes. Often in the Holmes stories she is resigned to cooking and cleaning for the boys, but this Mrs. Hudson packs and solid punch.  A fine performer who was born to play this incredibly fleshed-out role.  Some of the longest laughs of the evening were delivered by her. After Kerr’s first exit, a well-deserved applause followed her out. Whenever Hudson joined forces with Holmes & Watson in chewing the scenery and keeping the fast pace alive it was definitely an acting Master Class to enjoy.  A short scene that incorporates a bit of charades was laugh-out-loud funny... because they didn’t do double takes or indicate this was humor; it worked.   

Put any other actor on stage with those three and – if they were not prepared, or didn’t have their own lines memorized, or had trouble just being completely honest, and had a tendency to slow the pace way, way, down – they would crash burn. Price, Ledsema, and Kerr were playing for keeps and unless they were challenged by other professionals they would have wiped the floor with them. Mrs. Hudson delivered the line of the evening – which I am sure I’m paraphrasing -- “Please, stop Acting!! You’re not good at it!” and the audience agreed with thunderous applause.

This is as far as I want to descend into any kind of negative critique. I implore every theatergoer to see this delightful new play.  For one thing, it’s a good and witty production, the Padilla script is extremely entertaining. For another, the direction is staged with an excellent thought-out vision and pacing. Visually the split-level set designed by Thomas L. Valach is absolutely perfect for circa 1890 London. And, finally, Price, Ledsema, and Kerr deserve to have their incredible work acknowledged by audiences. They’ve done their homework, embody their characters, and each moment looks as though they are having the time of their lives playing an amazing game of theatrical tennis, and no one in their three-way court drops the ball.  Frankly, I wish Tony Padilla could make this into a yearly series – bringing these enjoyable characters back to life to solve other plots, murders, silly adventures, and evil deceptions. 

Desert Ensemble Theater (DET), in residence at the Palm Springs Cultural Center, will present the world premiere production of SHERLOCK HOLMES CONFIDENTIAL  ---  April 12–14 and 19–21, 2024.

Performances are part of DET’s 13th Season “Off-Center at the Cultural Center.” Curtain times are 7:30 pm Friday, 2:00 pm and 7:30 pm Saturday, and 2:00 pm Sunday. Tickets are $37.50 and are available at the button below. For more information, call (760) 565-2476.


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