Only elementary


Sherlock Solo: An Original Presentation by the Master Detective


Written and Performed by Victor L. Cahn

Directed by Eric Parness

Presented by Resonance Ensemble (

The Kirk Theatre at Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd St.

Jan. 10 – Feb. 2 (Thu & Fri @ 8pm, Sat @ at 2pm & 8pm and Sun @ 2pm)

Review by Judd Hollander


Victor L. Cahn cuts a nice figure as the great detective Sherlock Holmes, but his one man show, Sherlock Solo, violates one of the cardinal rules of any visual medium, that being "show, don't tell." Indeed, much of this 95-minute tale would work much better as a radio play.


Subtitled An Original Presentation by the Master Detective, and set in a lecture hall in 1910 London, a now-retired Holmes has consented to give a talk about his exploits and decides to reveal the particulars about a case he has never before revealed. (Dr. Watson, the chronicler of Holmes' exploits, was on vacation in Scotland at the time and Holmes never mentioned it to him.)


As Holmes recalls it, one day he was sitting his flat at 221B Baker Street, bored out of his mind and about to amuse himself with an injection of cocaine when there was a knock at his door. Opening it, he meets Madeline Lortimer, a young, very beautiful American actress currently on the London stage, seeking his help. Madeline has had a rather checkered past where, as she put it, she did what she had to in order to survive. Now Madeline has fallen in love with Elihu Givens, a rather meek but earnest up-and-coming young lawyer, and he with her. However, the relationship is threatened by one Jeremiah Bascomb, a powerful "guardian of England's morality" who, despite being a complete hypocrite, is a favorite of London's political and social elite. Angered by Madeline ending their affair when she fell for Givens, Bascomb is threatening to expose her sordid past, thus ruining the lover's chances of being accepted by polite society - not to mention Givens' career.


Intrigued (as well as flummoxed) by Madeline's firm resolve, unapologetic attitude, as well as her passion, Holmes agrees to help. However like most mysteries, things are not always what they seem and it quickly becomes a question of just who is telling the truth in this scenario and who is actually pulling the strings.


This play has the potential to be an interesting commentary of class distinctions in British society (a la almost anything by George Bernard Shaw), but the story within a story premise never really takes off, as there are problems with the text on several very basic levels. The various plot elements are all one-dimensional (i.e., first this happened then this happened, etc.) and since it's all told from Holmes' point of view (as the one relating the story) we never get a chance to get into the skins of the other characters mentioned.


Additionally, Cahn's portrayal of the other people in the tale (four besides Holmes) are brought about with changes in posture and in vocal tone, none of which are really that believable. One may try to explain this away by arguing this is Cahn's interpretation of Holmes telling of a case from his past and this is how the detective would act it out under such circumstances, but it doesn't alter the fact that this entire exercise is supposed to be a piece of theatre and the material comes across as flat and dry.


Another problem is the entire first third of the play, which has Holmes talking about his background and how he came to become a detective. Cahn presents much of this information in a long monotone with said facts having almost nothing to do with the story he is about to relate. This section seems more a vehicle to add extra time to the show than anything else. There's also the question of just who this information is aimed at. Most fans of Sherlock Holmes (pretty much the audience for this work) know about his background and really don't need to hear it again, especially since almost nothing new is being offered in the telling.


Cahn more than looks the part (nice costume by Sidney Shannon) and manages to project the proper attitude for Holmes (a combination of superiority and cynicism). Direction by Eric Parness is adequate, but he's unable to bring the various characters (and era) Holmes recalls to life. Since Cahn wrote the script, the fault lies mostly with him but Parness must share at least some of the blame. The sound design by Nick Moore (which includes some classical violin pieces) is enjoyable. Set by Sarah B. Brown, which consist of a few pieces of furniture and the occasional prop (like said violin) is fine as far as it goes, but a story like this really cries out for a full set to really give the tale its sense of place. Lighting by Pamela Kupper works well.


The elements for the story are all there; they're just not very well executed. Cahn might be advised to either cut the half-hour of background verbiage or rework it into the story-within-a-story with which Holmes regales us. He should then either turn the work into a radio play, or, if he's set on putting it on the stage, make it a story of the case itself (hiring other actors to play the other parts and expanding their roles) with the section of Holmes giving a lecture used only as a brief opening and closing to the piece. As is it stands now, even though Cahn can be quite appealing in the title role, Sherlock Solo is not that much to write home about. Case closed.


Box Score:


Writing: 1

Directing: 1

Acting: 1

Sets: 1

Costumes: 2

Lighting/Sound: 2


Copyright 2008 by Judd Hollander


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