Sherlock Holmes has always captured the imagination—we ask who he is, the way his mind works, how he sees things the average bloke does not. Again at the Alley, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved character is on the stage—but it is unclear who the real Holmes is—as three men all claim to be him after a murder has taken place, and this time it's Watson on the case. This shift is unusual, as Watson becomes the sleuth, and we see another dimension of Holmes’s traditional sidekick.
While the Alley has done several plays featuring the iconic character of Sherlock Holmes, this play brings back award-winning playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who also penned Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, which was performed in 2013. Holmes and Watson focuses on a murder at Reichenbach Falls, and I particularly liked scenic designer Jim Youmans’ chilly atmosphere of the set and the falls, which worked well with Rui Rita’s lighting design.
What's more difficult is following the convoluted terrain of this thriller, which twists and turns so quickly I felt like I was always missing something. But so what? At the end of the show, much of the theater was on its feet in a standing ovation for the performance, so maybe I was just the sole person drifting off. I just thought it was hard to follow. For example, Elizabeth Bunch is fine in her roles as the Matron and the Mystery Woman, who is both an actress and an important part of the plot—but I am not sure if all the pieces fit together. I know it is a thriller, but it isn’t so thrilling when all the math doesn’t add up; I knew what was happening, but why? That is the mystery of this production, and sometimes, at key moments, characters were revealing information with their backs to the audience, and there's no getting back on that train once you miss it.
This is a short play—only about an hour and a half with no intermission. While I appreciate that brevity, if you were not pretty familiar with the Sherlock Holmes tradition, including characters (such as his rival, Professor Moriarty), you might not be as caught up in the plot, and a little more exposition might have been in order. I wasn’t sure if I cared about these characters that much. Jeremy Webb was a passable Dr. Watson with a few witty lines, but what makes him different from any other English guy in a period drama? Dunno.
There is some intrigue with Jay Sullivan, Dan Domingues, and Chris Hutchison all claiming to be Sherlock Holmes trapped in a weird asylum, but what? I mean, the whole idea that Watson can’t recognize Holmes is kind of a stretch—so, not my favorite storyline in the world. Is this the best the Alley could do?
But something did go right in this play, and that was Bruce Warren playing Dr. Evans, the strange holder of the three inmates who all claim to be Sherlock Holmes. He played his role with the most verve and wit of anyone on the stage, and I also loved him in last summer's The 39 Steps. He has that quality of certain comedians in which his expressiveness is entertaining and charismatic regardless of the material. I mean he was the best thing about the whole play, so did I just get lucky? Otherwise, this play is passable entertainment, but bring on Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap, which comes to the Alley in August, and has been running for a record 66 years in London’s West End. I’ll be waiting for its Houston arrival.
Thru July 22. Tickets from $35. Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Ave. 713-220-5700. More info and tickets at alleytheatre.com.