By: Mar. 03, 2015

The set is to die for. In the Carrollwood Players' SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY, James Cass has done it again with one of his most spectacular scene designs. The Victorian drawing room at 221B Baker Street, the residence of Sherlock Holmes, is total eye red walls, ornate paintings, a violin case, mounted crossed swords that will later play an important part of the show. Cass never makes a bad move when it comes to set design, and when this one was first unveiled, I heard gasps of wonderment from the audience. The set is amazing; I just wish the rest of the show lived up to its splendor.

Don't get me wrong; there are several noteworthy performances in this production and a few good moments to recommend. But there are also many theatrical wrongdoings that cannot be dismissed. I admire Carrollwood Players, and I have always enjoyed their shows. But something goes wrong with SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY early on, and I am still trying to gauge whether its directorial or due to the wordy, seems-to-go-nowhere-slowly script by Katie Forgette.

The show has such a clever premise. The iconic world of Sherlock Holmes, Dr. Watson and the devious Professor Moriarty share stage space with the wit of Oscar Wilde and the famous actress Lillie Langtry. A mystery ensues; the villains are eventually unmasked; and an entertaining whodunit thrillingly comes to its conclusion. Or so we wish. Things got off on the wrong foot even before it started. The pre-show curtain speech was egregiously lengthy, followed by a quick Scene 1 that didn't work and an interminable set change (the set change was longer than the scene itself). At this point in the proceedings, no actual dialogue has really been spoken, yet the play already feels as long as Molly Bloom's soliloquy in Ulysses.

Thank goodness that some of the actors came to the show's rescue. In the very long second scene, all exposition, Jim Moss electrifies the stage at every turn as the God of Wit, Oscar Wilde. I was curious to see how the actor would tackle such a famous figure, and Moss does him justice. I could watch a one-man show with Moss as Wilde anytime of the week. Although some of the jokes are pretty obvious, he was a breath of fresh air in the very long exposition. Moss was the best thing in his previous Carrollwood Players show, Suite Surrender, and he's certainly one of the best things here.

Miguel E. Rodriguez is a powerful presence onstage, and he makes for a strong Sherlock Holmes. In the program notes, Rodriguez writes that he "did not watch Benedict Cumberbatch or Jonny Lee Miller or Robert Downy Jr. OR Basil Rathbone in preparation for this role..." I respect that he wants to make Holmes his own entity, to create his own interpretation and not some carbon copy of past performances. And Rodriguez certainly has the acting chops to do it. But strong as he is, I miss some of the little Holmesian quirks, those idiosyncrasies that make Sherlock Holmes unlike any other literary figure.

After the exposition at Holmes' Baker Street residence, the audience had to endure one of the longest set changes I have ever seen outside of an elementary school. I could have gotten my car serviced, tires rotated and oil changed in the amount of time it took to change the set from Holmes' residence to the home of Lillie Langtry. Here's where the director should have intervened. Knowing it would be a long set change, he should have made this part of the show...with the actors in character almost doing a balletic change of scenery and props, all choreographed with proper music, all elegantly done. Instead, this seemed to last forever.

Thankfully Act 2 is much stronger than Act 1. First of all, this is where the villains rear their menacing heads and get to chew the scenery, and this show boasts three tremendous actors in these roles. So special mention must be given to Angel Borths, Stephan Bielawski and Bob L'Ecuyer.

Borths is wonderfully entertaining and has a scene that's my favorite, as she's quietly laughing behind the back of her employer, Ms. Langtry (a very strong Samantha Parisi). Bielawski is chill-down-the-spine intimidating as Moriarity. I found myself rooting for him in his Act 2 fencing duel with Holmes. Bielawski has a deep, booming voice, old school wicked, and he looks like Ming the Merciless on steroids. It's an incredible portrayal, and like Borths and Moss, he's so good onstage that I didn't want to see him exit.

Rob L'Ecuyer is equally as strong as the dimwitted baddie, John Smythe. In his bowler hat, he looks like Oliver Hardy as a Droog from A Clockwork Orange. And his accent is spot on; he's always in character and always a joy to watch.

Director Mike Cote obviously knows how to stage his actors well, but he just needs to work on the aforementioned pacing issues as well as character and voice (Dr. Watson in particular needs to project, and various British accents came and went). Although Act 2 was much stronger than Act 1, it could have ended in four or five different spots, which is never a good sign. We think it's over, but it keeps going. And going. And going.

The costumes suit the show well and are appropriate for the time period; sound and lighting work fine. As for the show's weaknesses, I believe it's the flawed script that should shoulder much of the blame. It's all tell tell tell, very little show. (Although I still don't know why the perfectionistic and fastidious Holmes would alter the famous Shakespeare line from The Merchant of Venice, "So shines a good deed in a weary world" to "naughty world," but so be it.) Except for some actual Oscar Wilde quips, Forgette's script is so weak and wordy that it should be forgotten; it doesn't make us care one iota for these beloved characters--some of the most famous in literature and history. And that's a shame because this had the makings for a great show.

SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CASE OF THE JERSEY LILY has only two more shows left--Friday, March 6th and Saturday, March 7th. For tickets, please call the Carrollwood Players at (813) 265-4000.

Photo courtesy of Picture This of Palma Ceia.