Huntington's "Sherlock's Last Case": Fun Holmes?

Rufus Collins, Mark Zeisler & Malcolm Ingram in "Sherlock's Last Case"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)
The year is 1897. It is September of that year, in Victorian England, and the iconic address is 221B Baker Street, home of its equally iconic inhabitant, a world-famous detective. “I am Sherlock Holmes. That is a name and reputation well known throughout these British Isles and, I daresay, beyond them”. With these words the play Sherlock's Last Case by Charles Marowitz is afoot. This 1987 Broadway comedy ran a mere 124 performances. Prior to this play's brief Broadway run, the celebrated sleuth was the subject of the more successful 1965 musical, Baker Street, with 311 performances, as well as such works as Crucifer of Blood, with 236 performances, not to mention the thirty year career portrayal by William Gillette (whose castle home in Hadlyme, CT may be visited to this day). Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's detective was the subject of no fewer than fifty-six stories and novels which he wrote since first inventing him in 1887, and since then the further subject of literally hundreds of literary adaptations and visualized mysteries in virtually every medium. His role was in essence to “make sense of things”. He wearied of writing time and again about his brilliant creation and tried to kill him off in his 1893 The Adventure of the Final Problem, but his fans were so incensed that he was finally forced some ten years later to resurrect him in his 1903 The Adventure of the Empty House, wherein he revealed that the detective had in fact faked his own demise. Conan Doyle fans, be ye on alert, as the original quote has it: “the game is afoot!” (an exclamation actually originated in Shakespeare's Henry V). As is typical with productions by Huntington Theatre Company, all of the creative elements are in place, but for those seeking nutritious theater, the alimentary question is whether this iteration has found firm footing.

Antoinette Robinson & Rufus Collins in "Sherlock's Last Case"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Into the confines of 221B Baker Street arrives a letter purporting to be written by Simeon, the son of none other than the arch enemy of Holmes (Rufus Collins), the evil nemesis, Doctor Moriarty:

        If you would know the hornet's sting
        Seek the insect in his nest
        But do not dare to cut his wing
        Or never shall your heart know rest

Rufus Collins in "Sherlock's Last Case"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Holmes' interpretation of the riddle is that it is a threat made against his life. Doctor Watson (Mark Zeisler) and Mrs. Hudson (Jane Ridley) are involved in the game, as are such expected supporting characters as Inspector Lestrade (Malcolm Ingram) and some not-so-expected, such as the mysterious Liza (Antoinette Robinson). And therein is just about all the information that might be shared while one keeps suspected spoilers at bay. There are, in fact, more red herrings in this work than in the ponds of Plymouth (that would be Great Herring Pond and Little Herring Pond), making for a true challenge for one's written assessment of the play. There are a half dozen major verbal and visual tricks in play, but it must be said that several of them are blatantly predictive rather than deductive, especially notable in the case of a direct steal from the 1970 play Sleuth, which is discernible from even the most cursory reading of the program's listed cast of characters.

Jane Ridley & Mark Zeisler in "Sherlock's Last Revenge"
(photo: T. Charles Erickson)

Director Maria Aitken formerly directed Huntington's madcap Alfred Hitchcock's The 39 Steps, but this is a much more cerebral effort, too much so in fact. The first act includes a lengthy verbal bout of exposition that becomes redundant even with some estimable parody. One longed for a less obvious plot that might utilize more ingeniously the talents of Zeisler, Collins, Robinson, Ridley and Ingram. Their work here is ably supported and enhanced by the Costume Design by Fabio Toblini, Lighting Design by Philip S. Rosenberg and Sound Design by Mike Pool.

It's a pity the source material is so infrequently successful and feels so dated. This cast and the creative team deserve a better vehicle. It says a lot when the standout of this production is the arresting Scenic Design by Hugh Landwehr; be it ever so humble, there's no place like Holmes'.


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