Review: 'Sherlock's Secret Life' casts famous sleuth in new light

July 01, 2004|JULIE McGLOTHLIN

This is no "Hound of the Baskervilles." This is Sherlock Holmes as you have never seen him before.

Pioneer Playhouse is now playing its second show of the season, "Sherlock's Secret Life" by Ed Lange. Directed by Robby Henson, the play is a fresh take on old characters, telling the "one and only story Holmes hasn't told."

A mysterious lady and a criminal professor appear at Baker Street on the same day, and Holmes (Michael Muldoon), Dr. Watson (Paul Angelo) and Mrs. Hudson (Patricia Hammond) must untangle a web of lies to discover the truth about the beautiful Marianna (Diana Cherkas) and Professor Moriarty (Bruce Nicholls).

The play combines a clever script with strong character development, a good balance of physical and verbal comedy and effective use of staging space to create a solid and enjoyable performance.


The play is structured as a reminiscence that a now elderly Watson, played by Eben French Mastin, is telling to directly to the audience. This storytelling structure allows for comic interaction with the audience and gives form to the unfolding tale.

Mastin is marvelous as Watson

Mastin is marvelous as the feeble and marginally crotchety, old Watson. He is humorous and satirical, commenting about the action of the play without upstaging the other actors. Mastin creates a completely believable grandfatherly Watson, while cracking jokes to the particular audience of the evening.

Placing both the old and young Watson on stage simultaneously, the play shows how Watson has changed over the years. Angelo does a good job playing off this connection between the older Watson and his youthful Watson. His flawless delivery of Watson's mocking lines seems a direct reference to some of Mastin's more caustic barbs. It is easy to believe that Angelo's character aged into Mastin's storyteller Watson.

As the plot thickens, quite a bit of physical action spreads across the set. The action keeps the audience engaged, but the stage fighting could use some work, especially early in the show. The physicality of the show improves as time goes on, eventually bringing out Holmes's unintentionally humorous side with a series of karate-like moves.

Muldoon's Holmes is a complex and layered character. He is shown as the detective of minute details, as we traditionally know him, but also as a poetic, rash young man. He plays the emotional highs and lows of Holmes with the same intensity, and the strength of his character is revealed only at the surprising conclusion of the performance.

Nicholls establishes Professor Moriarty as a good foil to Holmes. Yet, his skill is truly shown in his ability to portray the two Moriartys: the harmless professor, and, later, the conniving, cruel villain that he turns out to be.

Female actors also shine

The female actors also shine as solid characters. Cherkas soundly recreates Marianna's confusion and beguiling nature, although her mannerisms occasionally maker her seem like a less-than-genuine character.

Mrs. Hudson reveals herself to be a surprisingly layered character, as Hammond delivers a strong performance as a smarter-than-average landlady. Her obvious enjoyment of the male character's stupidity over Marianna's beauty is delightful.

Marjorie Tatum and Robert G. Hess put on good performances in their supporting roles as Mollie and Inspector Lestrade, respectively. Tatum does a sound job with her brief appearance as the old Watson's caretaker, using her spark and attitude to keep the small part from becoming a caricature. Hess' boisterous Inspector provides comic relief.

The play builds toward a defining moment, triggering a fast-paced ending. The resolution of the mystery and the conclusion's revelations are truly surprising.

The nautically themed set is equipped with rope ladders and a ship's wheel. The gentlemen's cravat-style ties and the flounced gowns set the scene, while the rich colors and textures of the costumes create visual interest.

Drawing on the age-old appeal of mystery, the cast at Pioneer Playhouse has created another thoroughly enjoyable show. Intriguing for young and old alike, " Sherlock's Secret Life" is a must-see.

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