SHERLOCK HOLMES: The Final Adventureby Steven Dietz
Based on the original 1899 play by William Gillette and Arthur Conan Doyle
Dallas Theater Center
Directed by Kevin Moriarty
Scenic Design by Russell Parkman
Costume design by Jennifer Ables
Lighting Design by Clifton Taylor
Sound Design by Ryan Rumery
Dialect Coaching by Anne Schilling
Fight Direction by Jeffrey Colangelo
Wig Design by Valerie Gladstone
Sherlock Holmes – Chamblee Ferguson
Doctor Watson – Kieran Connolly
Professor Moriarty – Regan Adair
The King of Bohemia – Hassan El-Amin
Irene Adler – Jessica D. Turner
James Larrabee – Daniel Duque-Estrada
Madge Larrabee – Christie Vela
Sid Prince – Taylor Harris
Ensemble – Timothy Paul Brown
Reviewed Performance: 5/2/2014
Reviewed by Chris Jackson, Associate Critic for John Garcia's THE COLUMN
William Gillette, the American playwright, actor and theatrical special effects expert brought Holmes to the stage, collaborating on a script with Conan Doyle and introducing the timeless line, “Elementary my dear Watson”, as well as the distinctive hat, pipe and coat. When the manuscript was destroyed in a fire, he rewrote it in a month, using their notes, and went on to star as the famous detective himself on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean in over 1,300 performances over thirty years, aided greatly by the addition of his dazzling special effects! Professor of Playwriting at the University of Texas in Austin, Steven Dietz’s script is loosely based on Gillette and Doyle’s 1899 script, itself based on Doyle’s story, "The Adventure of the Final Problem." Mr. Dietz, in his adaptation, also incorporates Doyle’s short story, "A Scandal in Bohemia", and according to Christie Vela in the “Come Early” session, even "A Study in Scarlet." The press kit says Gillette also included those same stories in his script. Dietz’s adaptation won the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Play in the mystery genre.
In Dallas Theater Center’s current production, Chamblee Ferguson has the title role and both the physical appearance and acting chops to portray this iconic figure, and he did not disappoint. His innate abilities as a performer and his years of experience were on full display opening night, his focus and concentration laser sharp. With a natural comic’s sense of timing and rhythm, every line delivery landed and paid off. The music of his speech, with its builds in tempo and volume and its sure pacing, led the way for the rest of the cast and for the structure of the show. His forays into disguise and alternate characters, as Holmes worked to solve the case, gave Mr. Ferguson the opportunity to delight the crowd even more. His was a Sherlock Holmes as “right” and familiar, and yet fresh and fun, as one could wish for.
As Doctor Watson, Kieran Connolly was the stalwart narrator and willing straight man for Holmes’ forays into induction, deduction and any other “duction” thrown his way. Dependable and competent, the character created by Mr. Connolly was as complete and well-rounded as that of Holmes. The actor filled the role of confidant side-kick and fellow adventurer with focused attention to detail in movement and expression. Their friendship was palpable and believable.
Professor Moriarty was played to snarky, oily perfection by Regan Adair. Beautifully costumed, confident in delivery and physical embodiment of this dark half of the dueling duo, Mr. Adair took command of the stage with his every entrance. More compact in stature, his presence nevertheless filled the stage as a worthy opponent for the brilliant Holmes.
Costumed in ironic white for her first appearance, the lovely Jessica D. Turner played Irene Adler, the only woman to ever captivate Holmes’ heart, and captivate she did. Seductive without being blatant or resorting to cliché, she used vocal technique and a confident physicalization of motivating forces to create an Irene Adler one could fully believe in. The actress made it clear through all the manipulation that the only person the character really cared for was herself.
Daniel Duque-Estrada and Christie Vela, as James and Madge Larrabee, made for a solid supporting cast of instantly believable, fully fleshed-out characters. Scheming, turning traitor, and fighting for every advantage seemed only natural for the characters as created by these two fine performers. Traded looks and actions befitting a team of conning siblings, all were on full display to add detail to the plot.
Hassan El-Amin made a dramatic and flashy entrance, complete with swirling cape and dramatic music, as The King of Bohemia. Blustering and bullying, whining and begging, Mr. El-Amin’s King was a comic, yet believable pawn in the game tumbling around him.
Taylor Harris as the physically formidable Sid Prince, and Timothy Paul Brown in his many guises, were solid additions to this fine ensemble. Mr. Prince was the embodiment of the rather simple, hired “muscle” villain and seemed to be enjoying his role. Mr. Brown played a policeman, a messenger and a train conductor, among other roles, and was quick and smart in his delivery and presence in each one.
Scenically, Russell Parkman used a thrust configuration, putting the audience on three sides, the stage deep and dark, shrouded in smoke and haze. A painted proscenium and red curtaihs, reminding me of a Victorian toy theater, were blatantly theatrical. Two impressionistic, almost photographic, what appeared to be painted, drops set locations most effectively; all in all, a fitting and absolutely appropriate atmosphere for this tale. The final scene at Richenback Falls was presented by a breathtaking backdrop presented in grays and blues, lit from behind with a revolving gobo to make the water shimmer and move. While fragmentary, the scenic pieces were fully detailed, Holmes’ Baker Street flat was filled with test tubes, beakers, filing cabinets, solid door with a stained glass transom, and a wonderful skylight. A track in the stage floor brought in a platform that served several purposes, while black-clad stagehands moved other large and solid pieces into place. Despite the fragmentation, the play never felt underserved by the scenery in establishing place and mood, and it was beautifully designed and executed.
Costumes by Jennifer Ables, inspired by Sidney Paget’s original Sherlock Holmes illustrations, made the characters and their personalities instantly recognizable. Using the Edwardian period (1901-1904 in particular) as a base, the costumes for the character of Irene Adler were not the usual feminine silhouette one has seen in other Sherlock representations. While attractive, and as Ms Ables says in her program notes, certainly more serviceable for the actress, I found them somewhat distracting. Perhaps I was too ingrained by the period used in the recent Robert Downey, Jr. movies. I loved that Adler’s first entrance costume was an unexpected white dress that morphed into a wedding gown and then another with navy trim. The wit and subtly of her next costume echoing the black and red of Moriarty’s outfit, and then the very feminine – and revealing – pale teal corset and slip in the Swiss scene were all outstanding. Wig designer Valerie Gladstone created a lovely and totally natural look for the Adler character. The men’s costumes, as in most productions, weren’t as flashy as the women’s, but the familiar deerstalker hat, pipe and overcoat on Homes, the plaid suit on Watson, and the detail spent on the other men’s dress, kept the feeling of the period and the characters and contributed to the overall visual appeal of the show.
The sound design by Ryan Rumery reinforced the melodramatic style of the show. Dramatic entrance music and more underscoring than is usual in a theatrical production, the wonderful sound of the heavy, sliding metal door being opened and closed in the warehouse, and all other sounds, solidly supported the approach to this script. Moody, creative lighting by Clifton Taylor also played a large part in creating strong visuals and atmosphere. Jeff Colangelo’s fight direction paid off in several quick scuffles, even if a couple of times the actors seemed a little slow in execution.
Kevin Moriarty’s direction was sure and strong with a definite vision as to the style and visual aspects he had chosen for the show. As mentioned, the script lends itself to the period’s more dramatic acting style than a modern audience might be used to. Mr. Moriarty had the good sense to guide the actors in walking a very fine line that never veered too far in the direction of affectation. His staging, the pace and rhythm, and the builds and quieter moments worked well overall. It was a singular vision that worked stylistically in the fast-moving, never dull evening.
In all, I was entertained by the production and enjoyed the adaptation, but I left wondering why, other than box office and current Holmes appeal, the company would choose to do this script. Like many DTC shows, it was well acted and handsomely mounted, but more often their shows also do more than just entertain, not that there’s anything wrong with that! Entertainment that also makes you think or involves you more emotionally, I find, is just finally more satisfying.
If you are looking for a smart, fast-paced and exciting evening of good, solid entertainment with gorgeous visuals and terrific acting, this is the play for you. The opening night crowd gave it a standing ovation.
Dallas Theater Center
Dee and Charles Wyly Theater
2400 Flora Street
Dallas, TX 75201
Runs through May 25th
Tickets range from $15.00 to $85.00, depending on the day and seating, and are subject to change.
Tuesday-Thursday at 7:30 pm, Friday-Saturday 8:00 pm, Saturday-Sunday at 2:00 pm
There is an additional performance on Sunday, May 11th at 7:30 pm. There is no performance on Wednesday, May 14th.
For information and to purchase tickets, contact www.dallastheatercenter.org or call (214) 880-0202. Any remaining tickets for each performance will be available to purchase at the box office, beginning at 6:30 pm.