“Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem”

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Alex Matthews (The Pinkerton), Andrew McGinn (Dr. John Watson), Darragh Kennan (Mr. Sherlock Holmes) and Christine Marie Brown (Miss Phoebe Anne Moses) in Seattle Repertory Theatre’s Sherlock Holmes and The American Problem. Photo by Chris Bennion.

This delicious confection doesn’t come from the pen of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; rather it’s the inspired work of Seattle’s own R. Hamilton Wright who began enjoying Doyle’s books when he was but an adolescent. In this work, our Seattle Conan Doyle connects the mystique of the American West with the celebration of Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Off to England go Annie Oakley and the cowboys and Indians of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West show. Sure enough, soon after they arrive Annie is forced to call on Sherlock for his assistance.

Under the direction of Allison Narver, there’s never a slow moment in this audaciously staged production. Darrah Kennan makes an astute and oh so British Sherlock. He captures the wiliness and self-assurance that define the man. Andrew McGinn’s always helpful Dr. Watson is played very much in the manner of Nigel Bruce, the famed Watson of radio and film in the mid twentieth century—a bit dim perhaps but always there when Holmes needs him. Marianne Owen as Holmes’ housekeeper has exactly the right deference mixed with a will of iron. She will not allow anyone to underestimate her importance in this ménage.

And, of course, what would a Sherlock Holmes piece be without including his older brother, Mycroft? Here he’s the appropriately reserved Charles Leggett. Christine Marie Brown as Annie Oakley plays her with strength and subtlety. She’s the star of the Wild West Show, but her all-American vitality and verve are as important as her shooting ability.

The acting in this production is worthy of praise, but for me, the real star of the show is its brilliant scenic design created by L.B. Morse. Morse places you, the audience, into the posh quarters of Holmes looking out over the row houses and chimney pots across the street. But even more impressive are the dark streets of 19th C London. Through the combined use of stage-scaled period photographs, multiple moving images, and traditional props he creates magical stage effects. The projections are stupendous. There are waterfront fight scenes, eerie chases, murders, and of course a crime lord. The extraordinary multimedia effects took my breath away.

Even for those who have never been fans of the Sherlock Holmes stories, this production is a crowd pleaser. For Sherlock enthusiasts it’s a must see.

Through May 22, Seattle Repertory Theatre, 155 Mercer St., Seattle, (206 443-2222 or seattlerep.org).

 

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