Hedgerow Theatre's 'Sherlock Holmes' off the mark

Posted: October 08, 2012

From: Mr. Sherlock Holmes

To: Dr. Watson

I say, my dear Watson, we can make immediate deductions from our visit to Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood at the indubitably pleasant Hedgerow Theatre in Rose Valley - you know, just down the lane from the county town they call Media.

First off, the play by Paul Giovanni - the same one that featured Glenn Close as the female lead on Broadway in 1978 and Charlton Heston as myself in that 1991 telly movie - is loose as the ashes in my pipe bowl. It's based, somewhat, on Arthur Conan Doyle's novel about our exploits, The Sign of the Four, and liberties were taken.

I'm not certain, Watson, that liberty here is a grand idea. As you know, the story's about a woman seeking us out to help her poor dear father, who's come under the heavy influence of opium and whose life is endangered because of a terrible secret about an incident in India and the curse that followed it. Giovanni's telling is, shall we say, convoluted, involving subplots about a never-seen mother and a pygmy. If you and I went to the play without already knowing our own story, I'm not sure we could fully follow it.

Yet even though I'm exhaustive (and exhausting), I'm not sure the twists would keep us from being entertained. Yes, I'm also clairvoyant - by the way, Watson, you're about spill that sherry, wherever you are - yet even I could not foretell that despite the production's deficiencies, our tale plays out with many fine moments on Zoran Kovcic's dark-mood set. We get a few laughs, and when we get action, the show works well.

Still, Watson, was I ever so smug about myself (or so young looking) as that handsome bloke, Chance Dean, who portrayed me? And was my cadence ever so awkward? Do I muddy my lines by speaking so quickly when trying to make the points in many of my sentences? You yourself got an all-around treatment from Dave Polgar, who has appeared before in these annual autumn Hedgerow mysteries. Clean-cut, that fellow. And always amazed at my prowess for solution. Just like you.

Really, Watson, were our British accents all over the place, like those of the large cast? I think not. And did we make exits from our chapters with gusto, or did we lumber out, as some of these actors? Lumbering would never allow us to maintain the rhythm of our melodrama.

Even so, didn't you like the luster Maryruth Stine brings to the role of our desperate client, and Jeffrey Lanigan, as the bumbling British inspector? Director Jared Reed has some good ideas about staging, Watson, and he also created the light and sound.

My sense of deduction tells me there'd not been enough rehearsal by Friday night's opening. Too often, the affair had a halting quality, very unlike us. If we're involved, you know, everything is polished. That's . . . elementary, my dear Watson.

Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood

Through Nov. 25 at Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Rd., Rose Valley. Tickets: $25-$32. Information: 610-565-4211 or www.hedgerowtheatre.org.

Contact Howard Shapiro at 215-854-5727 or hshapiro@phillynews.com.

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