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Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily

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Is Sherlock Holmes the most famous fictional character in English literature? I can’t say with certainty, but I can observe that the popularity of the irascible, but brilliant, detective has never waned. The character of Holmes continues to inspire contemporary novels, plays, and films. Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat’s brilliant modernization, Sherlock, has deservedly made a star of Benedict Cumberbatch, while a current mystery novel series manages to marry Sherlock, the inveterate bachelor, off. And, of course, every police procedural series owes its foundation to the Sherlock stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle.

So, Katie Forgette’s Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, produced by Theatre 40, follows a long line of Holmes dramatizations. Forgette doesn’t attempt an innovative take on the Holmes character. She chooses to create a traditional Holmes caper with the addition of non-fictional characters like Lily Langtry, the eponymous Jersey Lily, and Oscar Wilde. (Interestingly, in yet another contemporary series of mystery novels, Wilde tosses aside his pen to play detective).

Victorian London is the background for a tale of blackmail, lies, and secret identities which only Holmes (Martin Thompson) can unravel. Once we realize that Professor Moriarty (Dave Buzzotta) is involved, we know that we can look forward to their inevitable confrontation. The fact that both Langtry (Melissa Collins) and Wilde (Scott Facher) are “theatricals” allows some backstage fun and offers Holmes the chance to suggest that Wilde’s The Importance of Being Forthright may lack something as the title for his new play.

Holmes also dons drag to play a convincing Lady Bracknell, though the number of men who’ve played the role in professional productions over the past 20 years has perhaps dimmed the scene’s ability to genuinely surprise an audience. And this seems an apt metaphor for Forgette’s script which is solidly bland -- never running the risk of dangerously raising one’s pulse rate. Even that long-anticipated confrontation between Moriarty and Sherlock is a disappointing fizzle, with Moriarty simply slipping away. There is a mystery genre known as cozy mysteries, in which not-too-violent murders take place in sunny tearooms and small-town dance schools. An extraordinary amount of them are solved by house cats. This amiable approach to kidnapping and attempted murder seems to be Forgette’s aim.

Director Jules Aaron keeps the action clear and the pacing as brisk as the story allows. He even throws in a soundtrack to up the thriller ante. Aaron’s trump card is relying on his terrific cast led by Thompson’s dry and slyly underplayed Holmes. Thompson has a long history with the role of Holmes, and it shows in the hints of depth he manages to suggest. He is ably partnered with John Wallace Combs’ worshipful Watson. Combs is a Watson in the classic Nigel Bruce style, which suits this production’s aesthetic. The two men toss off Forgette’s dialog with style, and I can honestly say that I have never been so aware of how Shaw used Holmes and Watson as inspiration for his own enduring characters of Henry Higgins and Colonel Pickering. Both Thompson and Combs appear ready to tackle either Pygmalion or My Fair Lady.

Collins is a lovely and nicely centered Lily who delights in the character’s intelligence until the plot requires her to discard common sense. Facher is a likable and not overly effete Oscar Wilde who handles the Wilde and faux-Wildean epigrams and bon mots with grace. Alison Blanchard and Shawn Savage throw themselves into their comic henchman roles with great energy. Blanchard’s naked envy makes her feel like a Cockney Miss Hannigan. The focus on the henchmen and the tepid climax leaves Buzzotta’s Moriarty with little to do but grumble and complain. Anibal Silveyra brings a charming exoticism to the play’s other non-fictional character, Abdul Karim.

Theatre 40 mounts a very handsome production featuring set designer Jeff G. Rack’s artful sets and ingenious solutions to creating the various settings. Michele Young’s attractive costumes do much to set the era and to underline the class differences.

All in all, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily is a strong production of a pleasant, if forgettable, play.

Theatre 40    November 16 – December 17, 2017    www.theatre40.org

 

 

 

Spotlight

Laguna Playhouse Announces Ellen Richard as its Interim Executive Director

May 3, 2016…Laguna Beach, Calif…Laguna Playhouse Board of Directors announced today that, later this month, Ellen Richard will be joining Laguna Playhouse as its Interim Executive Director. The Playhouse announced late last year that it was undertaking a national search guided by Arts Consulting Group (ACG) for an Executive Director to succeed Karen Wood who had held this position for the past eight years.

Commenting on the appointment Joe Hanauer and Paul Singarella, Co-Chairmens of the Board of Directors, said “In the midst of our search we encountered this wonderful opportunity to engage Ellen while we continue to seek appropriate long-term leadership. To have found someone with the extraordinary qualifications that Ellen has is thrilling. She is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer at New York’s Roundabout Theatre Company where she was Managing Director. Ellen also has strong successes in supervising the construction of theatres in New York and also in San Francisco at the American Conservatory Theater, a rare and valuable skill set considering the contemplated major remodel and expansion of the Laguna Playhouse.” Laguna Playhouse Artistic Director Ann E. Wareham adds, “We are pleased and proud to have Ellen Richard, truly a rock-star in our field, join us as our interim Executive Director who will help guide the Playhouse during this transition.” Comments Ellen Richard, “I have quickly grown fond of Laguna Beach and the Playhouse. I embrace this extraordinary opportunity to join one of the country’s top regional theatres at this time in its remarkable 95-year history. I look forward to helping the Playhouse and working with their incredible Board of Trustees and Ann E. Wareham.”

ABOUT ELLEN RICHARD

Ellen Richard served as Executive Director of the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco from 2010 through 2015.  During her tenure, Ms. Richard negotiated a deal to buy the Strand Theater in tech corridor of Mid-Market San Francisco, helped raise the $34,000 million to renovate and operate it and steered the design and construction for the project which opened in May of 2015. The complex featured two performance spaces and has won multiple awards.  She opened the 50 seat Costume Shop Theater, a 49-seat “black box” venue used for the company’s Master of Fine Arts students and for shows by other local companies.  Ms. Richard was also credited with expanding the company’s educational efforts, coming up with programs like the San Francisco Semester, which brings undergraduate acting students to ACT from around the world, and Stage Coach, a community theater mobile unit that reaches into diverse neighborhoods

She was also Executive Director of The Second Stage Theatre in New York City. During her tenure at Second Stage, which began in 2006 (through 2009), she was responsible for the purchase contract of the Helen Hayes Theatre, growth in subscription income of 48 percent, and growth in individual giving of 75 percent, as well as conceptualization of a highly successful gala format and “Second Generation,” a giving program through which donors enable deserving New York City youth to experience live theater. Under Ms. Richard’s leadership, Second Stage provided the initial home for the Broadway productions Everyday Rapture, Next to Normal, and The Little Dog Laughed.

From 1983 to 2005, Ms. Richard enjoyed a rich and varied career with Roundabout Theatre Company. The Roundabout that Ms. Richard joined was a small nonprofit theater company in bankruptcy. By the time she departed as Managing Director, Roundabout had become one of the country’s largest and most successful theater companies of its kind, with net assets in excess of $67 million dollars. Ms. Richard is the recipient of six Tony Awards as producer, for Roundabout productions of Cabaret (1998), A View from the Bridge (1998), Side Man (1999), Nine (2003), Assassins (2004), and Glengarry Glen Ross (2005). As producer of more than 125 shows at Roundabout, she had direct supervision of all management and marketing functions. She created Roundabout’s “Theatre-PLUS” programs, which include singles, teachers, family, gay and lesbian, wine tasting, and the 7 p.m. “Early Curtain” series, all of which grew to represent more than 10 percent of Roundabout’s 40,000 subscribers.

As director of design and construction at Roundabout, Ms. Richard was responsible for more than $50 million of theater construction for 11 projects. She conceptualized the three permanent Roundabout stages — The Broadway venues of Studio 54 and the American Airlines Theatre, and the Off-Broadway venue The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre She directed the location search for Cabaret and oversaw the creation of the production’s environmental Kit Kat Klub. Prior to her tenure at Roundabout, Ms. Richard served as business manager of Westport Country Playhouse, theater manager for Stamford Center for the Arts, and business manager for Atlas Scenic Studio. She began her career working as a stagehand, sound designer, and scenic artist assistant.