By Michael “Buzz” Buzzelli, ‘Burgh Vivant
Three years after his dramatic death at Reichenbach Falls, Sherlock Holmes is rumored to be alive in Jeffrey Hatcher’s “Holmes and Watson.”
Doctor John Watson (Daryll Heysham) receives a telegram insisting that the super sleuth did not perish in his deadly struggle with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty, at the scenic Swiss waterfall. The good doctor is summoned to a sanitarium on a mysterious – and mostly unpopulated – island to identify Holmes when he arrives. He travels to the island by ferry, and – only after landing – he is told that there isn’t another ferry until morning. He is also relieved of his side arm by an orderly (James Keegan). Now, Watson is defenseless on the island with violent mental patients. Three patients of the sanitarium each claim to be the Baker Street detective (Darren Eliker, David Whalen, and Gregory Johnstone).
Doctor Evans (Tim McGeever) facilitates Watson’s visit with each mental patient, each believing themselves to be Sherlock. Watson questions each man to discern the identity of the true detective. A violent game of “To Tell the Truth” ensues.
Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up!
“Holmes and Watson” is a theatrical Rubik’s cube. There are several twists and turns that upend the play with each new revelation. This review cannot go into the depth and breadth of the action without spoiling key plot points. Suffice to say, like all good Sherlock Holmes mysteries, it begins with murder.
Dunt Dunt Da!
Like most noir plots, there is also a beautiful woman (Gayle Pazerski) at the heart of the story. Is she the love interest or the femme fatale? Shh! Spoilers.
The first fifteen minutes is mostly set up with very little action. Even though “Holmes and Watson” starts laboriously slow, it picks up speed in the middle and then races to the finale. The play is a roller coaster tick-tick-ticking toward the top of the first hill, then hitting several loop de loops and corkscrew turns.
“Holmes and Watson” is a devilishly clever play, but not Hatcher’s best. To be fair, “Compleat Female Stage Beauty” set an impossibly high standard.
Since Sherlock is a side character (or three), there’s a Holmesian trait that is missing from this play seen in most of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s works. This play does not have Sherlock assembling clues and astonishing Watson with details about a person from the cuff of their sleeve or the sole of their shoe. You won’t find that Parlor Trick version of Holmes here. However, there is a slight of hand going on, but – once again – it cannot be revealed.
Reviewer’s note: I haven’t been this secretive about a plot since Nassim Soleimanpour’s “White Rabbit, Red Rabbit.”
Andrew Paul directs the show with verve. There’s a casting note that can’t divulged because it also tips the deerstalker cap in a direction toward one of the dopplegangers.
It can, however, be said that it’s a great cast. McGeever immerses himself into his role. It’s a damn fine performance from the affable actor.
Each Sherlock will have his fans. They are completely different, yet you will be rooting for each one of them at different points in the story. Bravo to Eliker, Whalen and Johnstone.
“Holmes and Watson” runs a quick 95 minutes, but it’s guaranteed to astonish and delight. It’s a long-form magic trick. Go see it and try to guess the ending.
“Holmes and Watson” runs from February 16 to March 4 at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, Pittsburgh, PA 15212. For more information, click here.