Story: Sherlock Holmes is impatient as he paces back and forth in his dwelling at 221B Baker Street in Victorian London. He is in search of a case that will tax his superior powers of deductive reasoning, a man whose intellect is matched only by his ego.
To his delight, landlady Mrs. Hudson ushers in one Dr. James Smith, an American who tells Holmes and his colleague, Dr. John Watson, that he is in pursuit of a madman named Dr. Victor Sumatra. Apparently Sumatra is in possession of a deadly plague that could decimate the London populace whenever Sumatra decides to unleash it on the public. Furthermore, the villain has rigged it so that should he himself be killed the virus can still be spread.
Holmes asks for additional details, but the tight-lipped Dr. Smith refuses to divulge anything further, saying he is an agent of the United States government who is allowed to reveal only bits of information to the British sleuth. It all sounds a bit mysterious and contrived, but Holmes agrees to take on the case and match wits with the deadly Dr. Sumatra.
Highlights: Playwright Jason Slavik tries his hand at an original play featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary masterpiece of a character, the inimitable Sherlock Holmes, in a two-act drama receiving its world premiere at First Run Theatre. Aficionados of Holmes and Conan Doyle’s incisive writing may be captivated with the opportunity to see a fresh take on the classic detective.
Other Info: Slavik’s father, First Run Theatre president Brad Slavik, contributes original music to the effort that is performed ‘live’ by violinist Alison Rolf and pianist Sarah Walseth. The elder Slavik also is responsible for the set design, which features some quaint Victorian-era furniture adorning Holmes’ digs, including a desk, bookshelves and some comfortable chairs.
Krystal Stevenson and Jan Bigott add props to enhance the effect of time and place, and Russell Bettlach’s costumes seem right at home in 1890 London. Don Krull lights everything satisfactorily.
Problems aplenty, though, weigh down this production of Whatever Remains. Robert Beck’s direction too often is stolid as he moves the story at a creaky pace, and exits of the performers look awkward on the huge Hunter Theatre stage. As a colleague wryly noted, the presentation has more of a ‘walking time’ than a running time. The overly wrought music only exacerbates this feeling.
The cast, while enthusiastic and exuberant, hams it up a bit too much far too often. Brad Kinzel’s Dr. Smith lacks any subtlety that would give his character some sympathy and appeal, while veteran performer Charles Heuvelman seems unable to escape the buffoonish depiction of Dr. Sumatra in Jason Slavik’s script.
Maurice Walters II has a grand time as Constable Charlie Wiggins, a former member of Holmes’ youthful Baker Street Irregulars who still assists the intrepid detective when called upon. Gwynneth Rausch certainly has more lines than Mrs. Hudson generally is assigned in a Holmes story, but director Beck often has her sitting aside from the action like an unused prop, for no satisfying reason.
As Watson, Jeremy Goldmeier is considerably over the top in his blustering portrayal, although he’s better when delivering his lines in more subdued fashion. An early scene when Holmes encourages Watson to use his own deductive skills before pointing out his colleague’s myriad errors is one of the highlights of the evening.
Robert O. Stevenson has the gaunt, lean look of Holmes and strides with the confidence of the genius sleuth, but his portrayal is primarily a match for the rather disappointing yarn spun by young Slavik. In reference to the latter, the story’s denouement is disappointing and truly bizarre, a red herring that is more ludicrous than clever.
First Run Theatre has admirably promoted new works throughout its decade of existence, encouraging fledgling playwrights and allowing them a chance to see their works performed on stage so that they can retool them if necessary for any future presentations. There’s a seed of cunning adventure in Whatever Remains, but at this moment it takes the acute powers of Sherlock Holmes to detect it.
Play: Whatever Remains
Company: First Run Theatre
Venue: Hunter Theatre, DeSmet Jesuit High School, 233 North New Ballas Road
Dates: January 17, 18, 19
Tickets: $8-$15; contact 352-5114 or firstruntheatre.com
Rating: A 2.5 on a scale of 1-to-5.