Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Sherlock Holmes—NW Children’s Theatre—NW Portland



The Plot…Thins

This production was adapted by Jeff Sanders and is a World Premiere.  It is directed by Sarah Jane Hardy (NWCT’s Artistic Director) and is playing at their space at 1819 NW Everett St. through October 26th.  For more information, go to their site at www.nwcts.org or call 503-222-4480.

The only story of a purported Young Sherlock Holmes was a film a number of years ago by that name and produced by Steven Spielberg.  It was not of the original writer’s conception (Doyle) but a fabricated, what if… story, tracing the possible connection between some of the major characters in Holmes’s adult life.  Sherlock is almost as popular as Christie’s sleuths and have had many incarnations over the years.  My own personal favorite for Holmes was Basil Rathbone (the actor, not his films of the character).  And, possibly the most elaborate invented tale, was his tracking of the infamous, Jack the Ripper in Murder By Decree, with Christopher Plummer as the sleuth.

This particular adaptation, although interesting in concept, is rather slight in story and character development.  To be fair, Holmes’s sagas do not translate well to the stage because there is something missing to the excitement of the chase when “the game’s afoot.”  And, in any complicated mystery, there is something static, too, in the introduction of all the characters and the various plot lines, which tends to drag things down a bit.  This is the case in about the first third of this show.

The story concerns two outcast students, Holmes (Andrew Fridae) and Watson (Mitchell Lenneville), who are forced to share a room together at the Criterian Academy.  The eccentric headmaster (Kevin Michael Moore) has a soft spot for Holmes’s…oddness (perhaps feeling a kinship to him) and fought in a war with Watson’s father, so feels an allegiance to his son.  But his, and the school’s, pride and joy is the expensive, original, first folio of Shakespeare’s plays and sonnets.

The story gets even stranger as a mysterious benefactor is willing to fund a performance of the famous, Russian magician, The Great Grigori (Sam Burns), and the priceless book is to be a part of his cabinet of disappearances.  Reluctantly, the headmaster agrees and, just as you might suspect, the book, indeed, disappears on cue but does not re-appear.  And there is a wealth of suspects (including the ones already mentioned) in John (Norris Meigs), the Headmaster’s faithful gofer, Lestrade (Emilia Smart-Denson), the custard proctor and her friend, Gregson (Clara King), or could it be another professor, Rance (Rielly Alexander).

Obviously, I won’t be a spoiler and tell you how the crime was done or who committed it, but it is fairly clever.  But to rewrite the bard a bit, “The name’s the thing, wherein…” you may discover a clue.  After all, clues are fair, even red herrings, in all mysteries.  And the magic show was the heart of this production and quite delightful, as they offered tricks done live, onstage, that were performed during Doyle’s time.

The production lacked the energy (except for Moore) that is usual for their shows.  And one character seemed to be having trouble with some lines (perhaps just opening week jitters).  The audience also seemed rather laid back and offered only mild responses throughout the show (in fairness, though, the actors had done a show earlier that same morning).  Hardy has done a good job of staging this and the magic tricks (designed by John D. Ellingson) were fun to watch and quite good.  But the show needs a less talky script and more pep from the cast.

Moore is always good in all the shows he does here and is the highlight of this show.  Perhaps the cast needs to adopt some of the broadness of his character to their parts.  Burns, also good in other shows of theirs, is fun to watch.  Meigs was good in his later scenes and Lenneville gave us a credible Watson.  I look forward to their musical staging of some Disney classics in the future Mary Poppins, The Jungle Book, and The Little Mermaid, which is where this company should excel.

I recommend this production because of Moore’s acting and the magic tricks conceived by Ellingson and performed by Burns.  But the comprehension of very young children for Shakespeare and Doyle’s sleuth may be a bit above their heads.  If you do go to see it, please tell them Dennis sent you.