Sunday, August 18, 2013

Sherlock Through The Looking Glass (review)

Spoilers ahoy!

The above warning to the contrary, I'm reluctant to give away much when reviewing a mystery. Simple really--don't want to interfere with anyone's pleasure in viewing the show!  Especially this type of mystery. The Porters of Hellsgate is a classical theatre company without a permanent home. Their most current production is a world premier, Sherlock Through the Looking Glass written and directed by Gus Krieger.

As one might imagine from the title, it involves a crossover of sorts between the works of Arthur Conan Doyle and Charles Lutwidge Dodgson aka Lewis Carroll. I can safely say the direction this took surprised me. Twice.

My initial expectation was for Holmes to venture into a dreamlike world akin to Wonderland or on the other side of the Looking Glass. This does indeed happen, but not the way I expected.

Essentially, we begin with Holmes (Kevin Stidham) and Watson (Timothy Portnoy) in Baker Street, the former complaining of boredom and turning to cocaine to relieve same. Perfectly straightforward this. Soon a client arrives, a pretty young woman named Lillian Childress (Jennifer Bronstein) telling a strange story--about her sister Josephine (Dana DeRuyck) who suddenly went utterly mad minutes after purchasing used copies of Lewis Carroll's famous Alice books from a street vendor (Andrew Graves) and his feeble-minded assistant (Amelia Gotham). More, her ravings echo the words of that author, especially a sentence we shall hear again:

Beware The Jabberwock.

As Inspectors Lestrade (Sean Faye) and Gregson (Michael Hoag) also note, this marks the third such person to lose their minds so suddenly and catastrophically. But who? And why? What evidence exists seems to point to Charles Dodgson (Bert Emmett) and the two Scotland Yard men soon show up to arrest the man--whose reaction proves very unusual. Holmes, who is present, soon discovers the professor's extremely detailed diaries are missing volumes and pages.

The game is afoot! Exactly what happens in the course of the play makes for a thrilling and interesting tale, one I will not ruin for others. Allow me to point out some strengths and weaknesses in the production itself. The space itself has a few problems, the single biggest is how lights don't seem to reach the highest levels of the playing area. Acoustics are alright, and the cast deserves praise in general for their diction and projection. However, many of the lines are very long, spoken very quickly, and sometimes become a blur. The fight scenes look staged, but then they are! And they all have the same 'feel' so they fit together, helping create teh 'world' of the play.

I felt considerable pleasure that Holmes came across as the arrogant so-and-so he frankly comes across as in the books! Plus Watson himself seems not a bumbling physician but an able and tough war veteran, clearly very intelligent but not in the super-genius level of his friend. The writing impressed me, not only for displaying so much knowledge of the Holmes canon but weaving it into the narrative so well--and even tricking me by creating a subtle expectation (which shall remain unrecorded in hopes of letting others enjoy the same surprise). So many British accents on stage are poor, but these were very good! Likewise even the smallest of characters came across as having real individuality--an admirable display on the part of writer, director and cast! That even an insane character appeared to be saying something, not just rambling, makes for a fine tribute to the whole production.

Along the way, I must say Sherlock Through the Looking Glass goes after some genuinely disturbing stuff--revenge, sexual sins and guilt, the source of madness and how it leaks into our seemingly rational, logical world, the embrace of chaos as opposed to order. That is what elevated this play beyond formula, beyond a mere retread of Sherlock Holmes' greatest hits, out past a charming pastiche into something with genuine revelation about parts of life. In the true mystery-story fashion, order is restored. But, order has won only the battle. The war goes on. Final victory remains nowhere in sight.

Sherlock Through the Looking Glass plays Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sundays at 2pm until September 22, 2013. The show is at the Whitemore-Lindley Theatre Center at 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood CA 91601.

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