"Sherlock Holmes", the play
Friday night the 5th, the Village Playhouse of Wauwatosa opened the production of Gillette and Doyle's "Sherlock Holmes" that we have been rehearsing since the end of January. I'm pleased to say that the "mystery" happened and the first weekend was quite successful, although some things remained in doubt as of dress rehearsal.
This was due to a number of factors: first, unlike the West Allis Players, the local
school system hasn't shown any interest in working with the Village Playhouse, which means they don't have any established venue and have to rent sites where they can. Since, like most community theatre groups they run on a shoestring, they can't afford to rent their hall for any more than the minimum necessary time. Thus, we had exactly four nights before opening to work in the actual space, cram in the sets (which were constructed elsewhere), work out scene changes, adjust sound, and set up
and aim lighting.
Second, we had some people who were cast in smaller but still crucial parts have to pull out and be replaced, so some of the people on stage were going on with far less rehearsal time than the rest of us, and have done a heroic job getting up to speed in a short time. (So, extra kudos to Scott Bahr as "Sidney Prince," Brad Hightdudis as "Alf Bassick," and Tom Koth as "Leary/Sir Edward Leighton". Thanks for
stepping up!) As might be expected, we were tweaking, painting, sewing and sweating literally right up to (and in some cases, after) the opening curtain. But, it is the magic of the theatre that the audience was caught up in the play and didn't notice.
The plot of the play is derived chiefly from Doyle's stories "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Final Problem," plus bits adopted from elsewhere in the Holmes canon, as augmented by William Gillette's sense of what the American theatrical audiences of the period would enjoy. Thus, the play has a rather melodramatic plot seasoned with pulp magazine influences ("Nick Carter Weekly") such as Moriarty's underground lair with its "advanced" telephone and mechanical doors, and the Swandam Lane
deathtrap that Holmes escapes. It was very much a vanity piece for Gillette as Holmes, and Holmes talks a LOT. Derek Jacobs, our Holmes, has done a great job memorizing all his dialog delivering it in the Holmes style. Holmes is well supported by Sarah Zarzynski as "Alice Faulkner," the heroine; Tom Zeugner as Dr. Watson; and Tod Herdt and Ian Cline as Holmes' assistants. Besides Moriarty, the villains include blackmailers Madge and Jim Larabee (Molly DeWayne and Eric Smith),
safecracker Prince (Bahr), and Hightdudis, Koth, Clarence Aumend, and Lloyd Drager as Moriarty's murderous henchmen. This has been an excellent cast to work with, and I'm very pleased to have been a part of this show.
Of course, I'm having great fun as Moriarty, which is the most enjoyable role I've had since my turn as Sherlock Holmes in West Allis' "Hound of the Baskervilles" in 2004. The third scene confrontation with Holmes is taken directly from "The Final Problem," Moriarty's single on-stage appearance in Doyle, and the rest of his action is good and chewy fun. The Professor is a master planner whose organizational ability has so far overmatched Scotland Yard, whom he describes as "a line of bumpkins stretching back into oblivion." However, he is not as successful against
Holmes, whose observational skills and criminal knowledge give him a superior situational awareness that allows him to improvise a response to whatever Moriarty throws at him. Moriarty gets desperate when Holmes starts to draw the net around him, and makes the now-classic "Evil Overlord" mistake of getting personally involved when being unseen has "meant safety for years." This Moriarty is the ancestor of characters like the "Sicilian" from "The Princess Bride," and I can just picture him muttering "Inconceivable!" when foiled by The Great Detective.
"Sherlock Holmes" continues March 12 and 13 at 7:30PM at Faith United
Church of Christ, 4240 N. 78th Street, Milwaukee.