Chicago Theatre Review
The Case of the Christmas Oddity
Let’s start with the good: Raven Theatre Company’s “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose” is a delightfully acted, fast-paced mystery that effectively captures the inquisitive, whimsical spirit of Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed investigator. Darren Hill (as Watson) and Tyler Rich (as Holmes) make an ideal pair, and the show’s supporting cast (especially Bryan Dawidowicz and Dan Toot, who chew up the scenery with considerable aplomb) are more than capable in their own right. And to top it all off, the show’s sound design is quite enjoyable, with a DIY aesthetic reminiscent of old radio programs.
Yet, even with all that, there were a couple elements to “Christmas Goose” that ultimately held it back and, unfortunately, stopped it from ascending the same heights as some of the must-see Christmas productions here in Chicago (a la Greenhouse Theater’s terrific “It’s a Wonderful Life”).
First, there is the show’s length. Based on the Doyle short story “The Adventure of Blue Carbuncle,” “Christmas Goose” is a very short play, with the narrative and complementary passages (more on those in a moment) coming out to just over an hour. Now, it’s true that the original story is quite short – see here, if you don’t believe me – but the play can’t help but feel a bit slight, in the end. It’s not so much that the story is not well told. In fact, Holmes’ investigation, adapted by Director Michael Menendian, progresses with a breeziness that is admirable, and is anchored by a wonderful narration by Hill’s Watson. Rather, it all ties up a bit too quickly, and I was left yearning for at least another half hour of twists and turns with the cast, which, again, is quite good.
Second, and more notably, there’s the matter of the show’s music, which was off-kilter and unbefitting of the show. Led by Bandleader George Goetschel, the show began with a highly unusual Christmas concerto from Goetschel that, virtuosity notwithstanding (and the guy does have considerable chops on piano), did not fit with the overall tone of the production, mainly due to the bizarre, Tom Waits-esque singing that he added atop his playing. And things did not improve much after that, when the music transitioned to a marching band-esque funk rhythm that featured Goetschel trading the piano for a trumpet, which he blew rather obnoxiously. Things simmered down after that, when the play officially began, but the cast still sang several Christmas carols in between scenes, and every time, it contradicted the feel of the actual show.
Menendian may have been looking for ways to stretch the show beyond its brief running time, and yes, the story does take place in December, but it just didn’t feel like a natural fit. But still, there were elements of the show that certainly worked, and fans of mystery and intrigue will find much to enjoy.
Reviewed by Peter Thomas Ricci
Presented Dec. 12 – Dec. 29 by Raven Theatre Company, 6157 N. Clark Street, Chicago, IL 60660
Tickets are available by calling 773-338-2177 or by visiting www.raventheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other spectacular area productions is available at the one, the only, the indefatigable www.theatreinchicago.com.