Harley Holmes has a dramaturgical problem that is exposed in the first scene: it's about a brother (Philip Galbraith) of the famous Sherlock who is an unsuccessful sleuth because, well, he is kind of a wimp. He doesn't do cocaine, he is mild-mannered and self-effacing, and his sidekick -- Dr. William Chauncy (Richard Kent Green) -- writes in a bland, non-melodramatic style that doesn't do much to goose the story (in a nice touch, it becomes clear that what he writes prefigures what happens in the story, not the other way around). As Chauncy's style loosens up, so the story becomes more exciting, until it's almost as exhilarating as the real thing -- or so the premise goes.
The vacuous protagonist leaves a big enough hole to serve, in turn, as a stage for all the other characters. Most are introduced when Holmes makes a house call in the country, to a wacky household reminiscent of The Mystery of Irma Vep: There's Mrs. Merkel (Jane House), of indeterminate dialect, the Mrs. Hudson stand-in; the troubled client Mavis Aubrey-Smith (Lizzie Peet); the manic Dr. Dagny Bigny (Mark Hamlet), who expressed his desire to terminate Holmes's visit with a rolling of eyes and twisting of fingertips; Grassley Westmore, a cad (Jonathan Sobel); a matronly aunt (Tomasina Walters, in the most plausible dialect of the evening); the clients' cook, Mrs. Ramirez (?) -- Jane House again as the ``ubiquitous British servant,'' this time in a Cockney accent; the mysteriously dysfunctional Mr. Ned (Mark Hamlet again, this time in a gorilla suit); and a young lady at risk (Sonia Knox and Alyson Linefsky).
An enthusiastic company and director did what they could to bring this sometimes tepid material to a boil, and made considerable entertainment out of it. Dialect coach Kymm Zuckert gave of the best to bring everyone's English into line, with only occasional mishaps. Uncredited costumes worked well; it would have been better for the set (Viola Bradford) if it had been ``techniqued'' after being painted the first time.
It's always a temptation to use a review as a podium for a one-sided story conference, in which the reviewer tells everyone how he would have handled the story had he written the play. To make, for instance, Holmes more a creature of Chauncy's stylistic whims -- perhaps with each character in turn critiquing the good doctor's literary efforts and thus pointing Holmes, temporarily, in bizarre directions (from which he escapes). The ``plot'' with Dr. Dagny Bigny et al. was extremely forgettable, leaving not much for the audience to root for.
But a reviewer standing in as a play doctor tends only to help the reviewer's fantasy life, not the playwright's work product. It is better sometimes just to point out the defects and leave it up to the original craftsman to figure out best how to fix them.
Copyright 1996 John Chatterton
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