Sherlock Holmes Grounded by Foggy Script
Chamblee Ferguson is a stylish but subdued Sherlock Holmes at Dallas Theater Center.
Who's your favorite Sherlock Holmes? Sexy-arrogant Benedict Cumberbatch in the BBC's fast-paced modern-day version of the Arthur Conan Doyle stories? Muscular Robert Downey Jr. in the action-packed big-budget feature films? The most elegantly droll was British actor Jeremy Brett in the long-running series on PBS years ago. The facial profile we often think of for the world's finest "consulting detective" had to have been the great Basil Rathbone in the old black and white movies of the 1930s and '40s. And then there's dashing Jonny Lee Miller in the current CBS drama that makes the man a nervous savant with Lucy Liu as Watson, his sidekick.
TV and movies are chockablock with Sherlocks. The character has become as ubiquitous as Peter Pan. That presents special challenges to Dallas Theater Center and its new production of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure at the Wyly Theatre, directed by artistic director Kevin Moriarty. With so many Sherlock options elsewhere, what could DTC do to make its detective memorable?
The answer will remain a mystery. The production, though visually beautiful, suffers from a serious case of the blahs. The fault lies mainly with a script that lacks suspense and characters who get lost in a fog of mixed-up plot lines. Adapted by Steven Dietz from an 1899 stage play by Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette, an actor who played Sherlock onstage for decades, The Final Adventure is a patchwork of story elements from many of Doyle's original stories and novels. "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Final Problem" are the most obvious sources, but there are hints of The Sign of Four and others.
Oddly, the play fails to set up a juicy central mystery to be solved. There's just a confusing bunch of bluster about a King of Bohemia (Hassan El-Amin) whose reputation is threatened by a compromising photograph of him with an American opera star named Irene Adler (Jessica D. Turner). (Irene is a much more alluring and dangerous woman in BBC's Sherlock.)
It's up to Holmes to retrieve the photo, but on meeting Irene, the detective lets down his guard and she outsmarts him. Holmes' real arch-nemesis, evil and brilliant Professor Moriarty (Regan Adair), appears late in the first act — too late to enliven a play bogged down in dreary supporting roles such as James Larrabee (Daniel Duque-Estrada) and Madge Larrabee (Christie Vela).
Actor Chamblee Ferguson, part of DTC's acting company and a reliable leading man, wears the deerstalker cap and tweed coats well on his angular frame, but his Sherlock lacks dimension. He lacks panache, speaking in a clipped accent that's neither posh British nor purely American. Ferguson's Sherlockiest moment is his dramatic entrance atop a red velvet chaise that glides downstage on a platform, our first glimpse of Sherlock shooting up his "7 percent solution" of cocaine inside 221B Baker St. (If only this whole production could snort some nose candy, it might kick some thrills into it.)
Serving as narrator is Holmes' assistant, Doctor Watson (stodgy Kieran Connolly). Unlike the close, complicated friendship depicted in the BBC series between Cumberbatch's Sherlock and Martin Freeman's John Watson, there's no chemistry at all between Ferguson and Connolly. Sometimes it seems as if their characters have never met.
Technically, this Sherlock Holmes is richly rendered. Scenic designer Russell Parkman has created a huge Victorian-era proscenium that opens out onto a wide thrust. His depiction of Reichenbach Falls looks a little vaginal, but waterfalls onstage are a tough thing to replicate. Sound designer Ryan Rumery provides a pounding soundtrack of spooky music. Lighting by Clifton Taylor allows changes of scene where there are no changes of scenery. Jennifer Ables' period costumes, inspired by Sidney Paget's original illustrations from Conan Doyle's books, layer lush velvets and wools, every button and sash perfectly placed. Professor Moriarty looks especially sharp in his red weskit and spats. If only the script were as stylish.
We'll take this play's subtitle as a promise: The Final Adventure. Means chances are good there won't be a sequel.
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