By Joe Straw
The strangest characters show up at the most unpropitious times, and on this particular night there was no exception as I have carefully noted in my observations below.
Theatre 40 of Beverly Hills presents Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily by Katie Forgette and wonderfully produced by David Hunt Stafford through December 11, 2017, and parking is free.
Perhaps this beautiful creature was minding her own business, this actor, Lillie Langtry (Melissa Collins) in her dressing room, putting on her makeup, and listening to the ambient stage noise when an intruder, face painted red, acted opprobriously in a manner meant for business, a cloth around her mouth, to silence her, to wipe her to torpor, consciousness darkening, until finally she is out.
It was a necessary step, but, for whatever the man was looking for, he did not find it backstage among her possessions. Nevertheless, and most importantly, a crime had been committed, a woman had been taken advantage of and, after her revival, and a noticeably clear head, she sought both help and a redress.
Meanwhile, in another part of town, in a room of exponential experimentation with flasks and chemicals, Sherlock Holmes (Martin Thompson) and Dr. Watson (John Wallace Combs) speak to their relationship.
An indefatigable Holmes switches from the flask he holds carefully to the topic of Watson’s money and investments simply by observing the chalk marks on his thumb and forefinger. Dr. Watson is astounded by Holmes’ reflections, his gift of the nuance, and the delightful way he is able to comprehend any given moment through observation and induction.
And through all this, the semi-deaf, semi-daft Irma Tory (Alison Blanchard) rolls in with a cart of silver, tea, cups and saucers.
Without pausing the conversation, Holmes pours the tea handing it to Watson. But, Watson, unaware of the scalding nature of the cup is nearly scorched within an inch of his life, and maneuvers the cup and saucer to a small table.
Holmes is caught off guard when suddenly there is a knock at the door.
Dr. Watson asks to be dismissed into the next room but Holmes insists that he remain.
In she walks, a woman, carrying herself in a refined manner, garbed in an expensive black gown asking to speak with Mr. Holmes. Head down, and eyes covered, she states that she is looking for suitable household employment.
Watson, staring off to the side, believes the woman’s story.
But Holmes, politely and methodically, recognizes that aspects of her presentation, the cockney accent, her physical attributes, and her general mendacious manner are inconsistent with the matter at hand; also, he sees no evidence of a workingwoman sitting before him. Holmes proceeds to challenge her.
Lillie Langtry drops the character and blames Oscar Wilde (Scott Facher) for misleading her into engaging the magnificent Holmes in this farce
Immediately, Watson recognizes her as the stage beauty Lillie Langtry and is flattered to meet her. Caught up in emotion, he is now red faced and out of breath by her stunning exquisiteness, the manner in which she presents herself, and the hand she delicately places into his receiving hand.
Ms. Langtry opens the door to gather Mr. Oscar Wilde, who now has an ear to the door, and is escorted into the room. A raconteur Mr. Wilde says he is working on a new play, tentatively titled “The Importance of Being Forthright”. Holmes is not enamored with the title and grimaces. Later, he suggests an appropriate change.
But back to the business at hand. Wilde says Ms. Langtry is being blackmailed, she has been attacked, for her personal letters and photograph from a relationship she formerly had with the Prince of Wales. Luckily those items were stored in a safe place and the ruffians were not able to obtain them.
Holmes muses that the story sounds familiar to one from several years ago involving a future king. But no one is being forthright, especially Langtry as she pleads for Holmes to help. Naytheless, he says he will help. And after Langtry and Wilde depart, Holmes devises a plan to find the documents, in a clever way that will require all of his thespian acumen.
Holmes gives instructions to Watson to get to the bottom of this mystery. That is when the mysterious Abdul Karim (Anibal Silveyra), Queen Victoria’s assistant, knocks at the door.
Anyone who enjoys Sherlock Holmes will enjoy this tongue-and-cheek adaptation of sorts by Katie Forgette who employs fictional characters (Sherlock Holmes, Doctor Watson, and Professor Moriarty) with real-life actor Lillie Langtry, the Jersey Lily, royal assistant Abdul Karim, and Lillie’s friend and playwright Oscar Wilde. For the most part, the action is from The Adventure of Sherlock Holmes, Adventure I, A Scandal in Bohemia with a few character changes and plot manipulation. Also, Forgette, introduces Moriarty into the play whereas this character possibly is a figment of Sherlock Holmes mind or someone cleverly invented by way of a drug induced state. In the stories, Moriarty is a character we never see but is intimately describe in the tales told by Holmes to Watson.
Jeff G. Rack, Set Designer, presents a set with a tremendous amount of fun as it moves from Holmes’ home to Lillie Langtry’s home, and to a dudgeon somewhere under the city of London.
Michéle Young, Costumer Designer, has the characters looking magnificent in 1894 London, England attire. The costumes are wonderful as in most of her productions at Theatre 40.
Jules Aaron, Director, does a terrific job, but one could appreciate a little more depth in the relationship department. All the characters were adept in the progression of the scenes but there were moments missed and characters could have been more deeply developed. (Scratch most of that off to opening week jitters.) For example, we see little of Dr. Watson’s desire to keep tabs on Holmes and to make sure that he is off the drugs. Also, Wilde must be extremely infatuated with Lillie Langtry, so much so, that he does not let go of her physically or emotionally. To another end, Moriarty must always prove that he is the smartest person in the room. And Abdul Karim must possess the power of the Queen when he enters the room.
Alison Blanchard does some fine work as both Irma Tory and McGlynn although there is some confusion in presenting the two characters as separate. Blanchard has a strong personality on stage and, to maintain the separate characters, she should present marked differences in personality, voice, and character choices. When she plays the Holmes household help, there must be something she wants, an objective that defines the character and moves the character beyond the conflict.
Dave Buzzotta is Professor Moriarty and has a defined white (evil) streak running through his hair. The foil scene liven things up a bit but I am not sure about the knife. Moriarty is the evil counterpoint to Holmes and must compete on Holmes mental level. That said, the choking scene leaves one with the feeling that Moriarty is not using his brains to get what he needs and resorts to unnecessary petty violence to prove his point. Moriarty is Holmes evil double, a man almost unbelievable to be true. He is the image of a man only seen by one person (in the books) and that is Holmes himself. Stronger choices are in order to make this character complete. (This actor was just the victim of a hit and run incident. Please go to his go fund me page and give what you can. https://www.gofundme.com/help-dave-after-horrific-hit-run.)
This is the perfect role for Melissa Collins as Lillie Langtry. Each costume amplifies her character and her stunning beauty. There is a bit of mystery to Langtry character that is not entirely forthcoming in her stories to Holmes. Describing the letters is only half of her story the rest is a mystery the others solve. Collins is an actor that provides a sincere depth to character as well as providing a solid objective. Mystery plays an important part of the Lillie Langtry character and Collins provides that mystery in an outstanding performance and one not to miss.
John Wallace Combs’ work is impeccable as Dr. Watson especially in the small moments when he relates to the other characters. There may be more to add to show the ways he feels and is concerned about Holmes. Watson is concerned for his welfare and just doesn’t casually drop in on a moments notice. They are more than just friends and the audience needs to see that. There must always be a competition in which Watson gets his way or adds a significant piece to the puzzle. It creates a stronger relationship when overcoming a small conflict.
Scott Facher has some interesting moments as Oscar Wilde. There must be more to the character than flitting about on stage as a comic supporting character. Wilde needs a stronger objective in order to tell us why he is in this predicament. A stronger choice would have Wilde not letting go of the most famous actor of his time for a play he is writing. That means not letting her go and helping her in every conceivable way and standing in the way of death if need be. Maybe Wilde should latch onto her and never let her go, emotionally, physically, and spiritually. Facher has a strong presence, there’s nothing wrong with the character, but he needs to add to his choices.
Shawn Savage supplies ample support to Smythe and Man 2 each a heavy and a muscle man to do Moriarty bidding. But in the end, they fight amongst themselves and gets very little accomplished.
Anibal Silveyra plays real life character, Abdul Karim, Queen Victoria’s assistant, secretary, friend, and confidant. The performance was low-keyed. It was an interesting choice because this character comes in with the power of the Queen behind him. Instead, Abdul needs to exercise more power to get Holmes to do his bidding. He is possibly the one man that Holmes might fear. That needs to be recognized in their scene together, to give the scene an added layer of mystery and power.
Martin Thompson is well suited as Sherlock Holmes and provides a fine performance. Yet this Sherlock Holmes needs more refinement in character, curiosity, and creativity. He needs to add to the character, not to take anything away. Lost are Sherlock Holmes’ personal problems, his drug addiction, and his lost love, Irene Adler. Lillie Langtry bears a striking resemblance to Irene Adler but this goes unnoticed by Holmes. We see little of his genuine appreciation of Dr. Watson who he needs to help solve his crimes. Holmes must be on his best behavior and capable of sharp observations in order to solve crimes on stage. Holmes must also have inexhaustible energy and be able to make mistakes, as he is human.
Joseph “Sloe” Slawinski’s work as the Sound Designer is impeccable and truly remarkable.
Judi Lewin, Makeup/Wigs/Hair Designer keeps places us in the 1894 time period and adds to the production values of this presentation.
Jessi Milestone is the fight choreographer and the fencing could use a little sprucing up in that dramatic scene.
Ryan Moriarty will step into the role of Professor Moriarty following Dave Buzzotta's accident.
Ryan Moriarty will step into the role of Professor Moriarty following Dave Buzzotta's accident.
Other members of the crew are as follows:
Don Solosan – Stage Manager
Richard Carner – Assistant Stage Manager
Roger K.Weiss –Assistant Director
Ed Kreiger – Photographer
Richard Hoyt Miller – Program Design
Philip Sokoloff – Publicity
Run! Run! And take someone mysterious, someone who loves Sherlock Holmes.
Reservations & Information: 310-364-0535
In the Reuben Cordova Theatre