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Review: MS. HOLMES & MS. WATSON – APT 2B at Portland Center Stage

Review: MS. HOLMES & MS. WATSON – APT 2B at Portland Center Stage

This production of Kate Hamill's new play runs through Feb. 12.

As someone who grew up reading all of the classic YA detective stories - Nate the Great, Nancy Drew, The Hardy Boys - I was all in for a feminist take on Sherlock Holmes, especially one written by Kate Hamill, the playwright behind the brilliant adaptation of Sense & Sensibility produced at PCS a few years back. MS. HOLMES & MS. WATSON - APT 2B simultaneously plays homage to and flips on its head the detective story tropes to show what happens when women are in charge.

The play opens with Joan Watson (played by Kimberly Chatterjee), an American, inquiring about renting a room in London for a while. The room is available and affordable, but there's one not-so-small problem - the apartment is shared by Sherlock Holmes (Ashley Song), world's greatest "deductive consultant" (and also world's worst housekeeper) who is feeling down because there seem to be no truly original cases left to solve (just the same boring old murders and robberies). Watson, who is clearly running away from something, and just as clearly doesn't want to talk about it, presents just the challenge Holmes is looking for.

Just as Watson is realizing that being Holmes' personal puzzle to solve will likely not make for a peaceful roommate situation, Inspector Lestrade (Darius Pierce) of Scotland Yard arrives with a real case - the brutal murder of a man in a hotel room. One case leads to another, and soon Holmes and Watson are trying to get to the heart of what might be a much larger criminal enterprise.

For the most part, the play is just for fun - Holmes displaying her excellent powers of deduction and devising crazy ways to catch criminals and Watson playing the trusty sidekick - though not always of her own volition. The two run this way and that, meeting a variety of colorful characters (mostly played by Dana Green), and slinging jokes. But Hamill also wants to make the point that something is missing from Holmes' computational approach to the world: empathy. This is what Watson brings to the table, and it turns out to be the key to solving the biggest mysteries of all

What this production has in spades is energy - everything is rendered in bold strokes, from the joke-slinging to the actors' movements to the scenic and lighting design (by Carey Wong and Sarah Hughey, respectively). Between the slapstick physical comedy and delivering pronouncements of deductive reasoning at lightning-fast speed, Song must feel like she's run a marathon after each performance. Chatterjee's appropriately less exuberant and also deliciously sarcastic performance provides much-needed breathing room. Pierce and Green, both playing multiple characters, take turns stealing the show - particularly Green in roles ranging from a nervous landlord constantly dropping her keys to an imposing femme fatale whose seductive power threatens to crack Holmes' famous objectivity.

Even with the breakneck pace and enthusiastic performances, the show occasionally feels formulaic, like reading several of Doyle's stories in succession. Some of the humor is groan-worthy and some running gags don't quite run as far as Hamill wants them to.

But, all in all, MS. HOLMES & MS. WATSON - APT 2B is delightful and entertaining, and a good reason to venture out one of these cold and stormy nights. MS. HOLMES & MS. WATSON - APT 2B runs through February 12. More details and tickets here.

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