Holmes for the Holidays

CaptureBy Philip Pearce

HOLMES FOR THE HOLIDAYS, like MPC‘s Almost, Maine and Paper Wing’s annual new plays project, offers hope that Monterey Peninsula theater, however financially challenged, is being fed by something more nourishing than just a relentless diet of Old Favorite reruns.

True, Conan Doyle’s sardonic sleuth is no literary newcomer. But the standing room only audience at Saturday’s performance at the Carl Cherry were clearly excited about a project that has been developed entirely on the local scene. It’s ably performed by members of the local Actor’s Collective and it’s intelligently scripted and impressively directed by local playwright and director Cindy Womack.

The evening consists of adaptations of two Holmes stories, Act One “The Case of the Blue Carbuncle,” Act Two “The Adventure of the Dying Detective.” Holmes makes it clear right from the start that he has nothing but quiet contempt for all the holly and tinsel Dickensian hoop-la leading up to Christmas. But Womack’s script throws him a few curves, particularly at the end of Act One.

It wouldn’t work, of course, without the brilliant performance of Jeffrey T. Heyer, who has established himself as our prototypical Sherlock Holmes. He lives and breathes the role—and in the second piece even chokes out some very convincing dying gasps. He gives a nice gothic chill to the moments of high melodrama and he can point a line in a way that brings out its latent comedy.

The whole company does justice to the material. There’s Cliff Gilkey, his shirt appropriately stuffed but his heart always in the right place as Dr. Watson. There’s Maryann Schaupp Rousseau, exasperated but sympathetic as Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’s housekeeper. There’s a fine performance by Fred Herro in a role full of roller-coaster emotions. Though it’s occasionally hard to interpret what she is saying, Tara Lucido proves it’s possible to smile and smile yet be a villainess. And it was nice to be reminded that when Patrick McEvoy takes a brief vacation from scene designing he is still a forceful and convincing actor. When he first appeared, I didn’t recognize him behind the makeup and thought he was a visiting player from England. Alex Bush, Eric Wishnie and Ari Edwards ably round out the acting company.

That said, to me, the real achievement of the evening is the way Womack makes some pretty complicated plot material happen within the tight confines of the Cherry’s small performing space. It has to have been a major challenge deciding how to maneuver characters through a series of London locales, interior and exterior, in a way that keeps the story moving, avoids awkward scene shifts and yet comes across clearly to an audience. Dramatic action outside the drawing room at 221B Baker Street takes place on the narrow strip of aisle running from exit to exit directly in front of the Cherry’s first row. Lacking the luxury of a set or elaborate props, Womack exploits Scott McQuiston’s able sound design and Joanna Hobbs’s effective lighting in ways that make it clear and compelling that characters are hailing horse-drawn cabs, smashing shop windows or chasing a gaggle of geese across a farmyard. It’s all done with what may seem effortless ease but in fact is the kind of clear marshaling and careful rehearsal of human and technical resources that mark good theatrical direction.

There’s only one more weekend to catch this fine show, Friday and Saturday at 7:30, Sunday at 2. And for all I know all tickets are already booked, but it’s worth trying.