Reviewed by Dr. Tiffany Raymond, PhD
Little Lake Theatre continues its 74th season with Kate Forgette’s 2008 play, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily. Forgette’s rollicking return to the Victorian era of 1894 imaginatively unites fictional and real characters. The former with Sherlock Holmes (Arjun Kumar) and Dr. Watson (Ernesto Sanchez), the latter with flamboyant playwright Oscar Wilde (Ryan Frank) and famed stage actress Lillie Langtry, aka the Jersey Lily (Danette Levers).
Director Gretchen A. Van Hoorelbeke harmonizes all of these larger-than-life personalities, allowing each to shine without letting them overpower each other. Forgette’s dramatic collision of fictional and historic figures makes for fun imagining. For instance, we learn Holmes helps Wilde title his works. Wilde’s current play in progress, The Importance of Being Forthright, is of course what we know as The Importance of Being Earnest thanks to Holmes’ retitling. Hoorelbeke shepherds the play’s rather madcap plot without letting the snappy dialogue run ahead of the action.
Langtry was legendary for her beauty and string of lovers. Watson is immediately smitten by her, and Hoorelbeke has Sanchez emphasize the impact by staring beseechingly at the door long after she departs Holmes’ residence. Langtry’s love life is at the heart of the play. She’s being blackmailed for her salacious correspondence with the Prince of Wales, and Holmes is tapped to uncover the blackmailer. Kumar captures the intensity of Holmes’ active mind with continual pacing and movement.
If anyone does steal the show, it’s Frank with his jaunty portrayal of the flamboyant Oscar Wilde. Frank’s just above the shoulders haircut lends itself to dramatic hair tosses that heighten the playwright’s magnetic personality and wit that Frank makes manifest. Costume designer Barbara Burgess-Lefebvre’s choice of a drab olive green suit for Wilde misses the mark as it fails to amplify Wilde as a cultural icon of the time who was well-known for his ostentatious dress. Her red and gold costuming for the stunning Langtry is reminiscent of holiday wrapping paper. However, neither Levers nor Frank are hampered by the muted costume choices.
As a woman of the stage playing a woman of the stage, Levers commands the helm as Langtry. She is fully aware of her command over men and repeatedly dials it to her advantage while playing the innocent. She leads with her chest out, literally leaning in to Watson’s flirtations in the hopes he will persuade Holmes to take the case. Later, she demurely tells a captor about her working-class upbringing to gain his sympathy so he sees her as socially aligned, not socialite.
The play is a layering of stories and deceptions, and ultimately, Holmes is just as real as Wilde. Forgette blurs the lines and reminds us we are all performers while letting us ride along in her literary time machine.
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily runs through October 30th at Little Lake Theatre. For more information and to purchase tickets to the show, please visit https://www.littlelake.org/sherlocklily