From left: Sarab Kamoo as Irene Adler, Paul Stroili as Dr. John Waton, Maitlin Cavannaugh as Marie Chartier, Tom Whalen as Vincent van Gogh and Mark Colson as Sherlock Holmes in a scene from 'Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear'
The game’s sort of afoot for the Purple Rose’s world premiere of David MacGregor’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear” (say that five times fast.) An interesting backstage look into the lives of Arthur Conan Doyle’s prestige characters. This production seems to be more associated with Doyle’s slimmer and more character-driven books, not the commercialized version of “Sherlock Holmes” which was released a few years ago.
This is not the hyper-caffeinated sleuth that Robert Downey Jr. played in the 2009 film, but lead actor Mark Colson could stand with the best of them. Colson is tall and looms over the rest of the cast as the perfect looking Holmes, who, at the start of the show, just had a morning rendezvous with other Doyle favorite Irene Adler (played here by Sarab Kamoo.) He then steps back into the old wiseass routine you might remember and begins deducing where Watson (played with charm and affection by Paul Stroili, a highlight of the show) was the previous evening. The whereabouts of Watson becomes a running gag for the entire show, of which I grew restless after about the fifth time.
Nonetheless, the show takes place in Victorian England,1888 and solely within the confines of Holmes own estate. I don’t think there’s enough I can say about this set. Under the direction of Barley H. Bauer, Who is very respectful to the material, you’ll see a trifecta of Holmes memorabilia scattered about as you walk into the theatre. Among other occurrences, the set is dressed to the teeth with small features that had the audience raving in the pre-show chatter. I was right there with them.
Sadly, I wish the energy of the show was able to match the bar Bauer set. Because, once the story sets in motion, the show starts to stumble. Before any of the inciting action starts to occur, we learn that Holmes is on the prowl for funds, “Holmes is being reduced to finding cats” Watson says, as the crew has been struggling for a solid case after the death of longtime nemesis Mr. Moriarty. “He was challenging!” Watson screams.
This Sherlock is just as much a bachelor per usual, with Watson serving as a publicist that has to pen stories and send them into the local newspapers to keep up the duo’s image. The earlier scenes do feature some clever banter between Watson and Holmes that I, personally, was craving. The writing seems to never swing back around to that dynamic later on.
Like clockwork, a strange man emerges from their doorstep: his name is Vincent Van Gogh (Tom Whalen: completely unrecognizable) and, of course, he’s missing an ear. Thus his case lends the name to our title “Elusive Ear.” MacGregor does a fine job at understanding the spirit of Van Gogh, with fun jabs at certain techniques the man hated, and some of his most prized works (you’ll be able to spot The Starry Night easily). Which also needs to be accredited to Whalen who brings so much to the role. To keep things moving, Gogh presents the clad with a case that’s hard for Holmes to refuse, much to the dismay of Watson; as they would have to take one of Gogh’s paintings — (they obviously don’t know how much it would be worth in the future) — as payment in lieu of money.
But wait, there’s more.
Another character shows up late in first act named Marie Chariter (Caitlin Cavannaugh sporting a thick French accent) whose motivations shall remain a secret as to not spoil the plot, but it involves some questionable stage combat sequences, an oddly misplaced reference from “The Princess Bride” (the audience seemed to like it: I didn’t), and not much deducing from the titular character himself. For a show that has Sherlock Holmes in the title, he seems to get lost in his own story. Leaving Watson or Adler to do all the work for him. In fact, I don’t think Holmes ever gave a soliloquy to the audience once. I was so disappointed that we never got to be inside his head. It almost felt like everyone was smarter than him.
The energy, thankfully, picks up in the second act when Oscar Wilde (played by Rusty Mewha) thrusts into the stage and steals the show from almost everyone. I could watch a play just about Wilde and Watson, and I think it would be far more interesting. Mewha possesses all the characteristics one should expect from Wilde: he’s funny, smart, and spits out vapid fire dialogue like its nothing. Hands down, he was my favorite part of the script. Next to Watson, of course.
MacGregor, no stranger to debuting world premieres at the Rose, has a deep affection for impressionist art history - (see if you can spot the fun nod to George Sarrick) - and some of the lines Van Gogh spouts are actual quotes - that’s impressive. Directed by Guy Sanville, also the artistic director for the Rose, who has an eye for staging his actors and makes “Sherlock Holmes” stand on its own. Despite the script restricting him to only Holmes apartment when, at least for my taste, it would've been welcomed had they ventured to other locales.
Behind the scenes, Suzanne Young’s costume design captures the essence of the era. It blends well under the lighting design by Noele Stollmack. Kudos to Danna Sergrest for keeping the props, from what I could see, in the correct period. Believe it or not, some theatres will make a glaring error in certain props they create for a period piece and that doesn’t happen here.
The show runs through May 26th and I think it will sell decent numbers. It has a name and the audience on opening night seemed to enjoy the shenanigans. I suppose, from a novelty standpoint, it was fun seeing the characters on stage, brought to life by very talented actors that, more or less, understood what depth was needed to make it all mesh. I only wish the script had given them more to do.
IF YOU GO:
All performances will be held at The Purple Rose Theatre Company, 137 Park Street, Chelsea, Michigan, 48118.
Ticket prices range from $20.50 to $46 with special discounts for students, seniors, teachers, members of the military and groups. For more information or to make reservations call (734) 433-7673 or go to www.purplerosetheatre.org