Tuesday, May 03, 2016

New Holmes mystery has an "American Problem" but is still fun

Cast of Sherlock Holmes (Chris Bennion)
Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem
Seattle Repertory Theatre
Through May 22, 2016

Our community has had some real successes bringing new Sherlock Holmes material to life in the last few years. John Longenbaugh had his Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol done to great acclaim in 2010 and again in 2011. In 2013, the Seattle Rep staged R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette's adaptation of "The Hound of the Baskervilles." That also was greeted with delight.

There was a good deal of anticipation when the Rep announced that they would do another Holmes play from Wright (without Pichette this time), a new work entitled Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem. This concept entwines historic American Annie Oakley with her lauded visit to Britain with a mystery involving murder, theft of a tunnel-boring machine (deliberate shades of Bertha!), and Sherlock’s estranged older brother.
Many of the talented and fun cast of the 2013 Sherlock returned for more fun. Darragh Keenan reprises his role as the irascible and temperamental Holmes and Andrew McGinn as his sidekick Dr. Watson. Marianne Owen comes back as the redoubtable housekeeper, and Rob Burgess and Charles Leggett chime in with smaller characters.

In addition, this time, Cheyanne Casebier plays a mysterious American scientist who has lost her boring machine, Alex Matthews and Tim Gouran are ensemble members, and Christine Marie Brown plays Miss Phoebe Anne Moses, who turns out to also be Annie Oakley (her stage name).

L.B. Morse again does yeoman work on the scenic design and lighting and projections, giving us the hustle of London streets, the maps of the city, and spare set changes that fly in and out in quick location changes. Allison Narver works to direct this game cast, but is hampered at times by underwritten roles and underused talent.

Poor Ms. Owen doesn’t have anything more to do in this iteration than pour endless cups of coffee and serve scones. In the 2013 story, she at least had more than one character which gave her some real acting to do.

You’re probably now thinking, having read this far, that this isn’t going to be a rave. While there are some good ideas, and sometimes a decent joke or two, the entire work does not hang together well. It is HARD to write Sherlock Holmes and if it weren’t then lots of people would do it. Wright grasps many of the aspects of a mystery, but the mystery itself is not always the fun part of a Holmes work, as much as how Holmes solves it and how opaque the clues are to the audience.

Ultimately, it ends up being talky and feels long, and there is a tacked on scene at the end that explains some things we mostly don’t even care to know by that point. It feels generally enjoyable, mostly because of the cast and the gorgeous set and costumes (by Deb Trout). Sometimes, you can appreciate much of an effort, even when it doesn’t all hang together, and still have fun.

For more information, call 206-443-2222 or go to

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