Chicago Theatre Review
Foul Play for the Holidays
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose – Raven Theatre
Back once more for another helping of holiday cheer, Raven’s alternative to Scrooge and the Nutcracker is a sweet treat, short in length but long on entertainment value. Based upon one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 56 Sherlock Holmes short stories, “The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle” was adapted for the stage four years ago by company members John Weagly and, the director of this year’s production, Michael Menendian. Refreshingly, the story’s only kinship with Christmas is the purloined goose of the title; the rest is pure Holmes. Originally constructed as a radio play, over the years this piece has been fleshed out to become more of a full theatrical piece, with the addition of holiday songs and choreography.
In the deliciously fun and intellectually savvy story, Dr. Watson serves both as the story’s narrator and Sherlock Holmes‘ friend and confidant. Together they investigate the mystery behind a battered old hat and an unclaimed goose retrieved by a young hotel attendant and delivered to the door of the super sleuth. The goose bears the name of the man for whom the goose was intended, and the hat presumedly belongs to him, as well. When Holmes directs his cook to prepare the bird for his own dinner, since it will otherwise spoil, a giant precious blue stone is found inside, reportedly stolen from the Countess of Morcar, who is staying at the nearby hotel. Holmes learns that John Horner, the hotel’s plumber, has been arrested for stealing the jewel; however, Holmes is confident of his innocence. Intrigued, Holmes and Watson set out across London to find the real culprit, solve the mystery and restore normalcy to all of London by Christmas Eve.
The play by itself is thoroughly entertaining. The sound effects provided by various ensemble members at the Foley table highlight the magic of a radio play. However, the inclusion of five Christmas songs, fully choreographed and accompanied by Chris Logan on the piano, while nicely presented, seem superfluous. The opening number, “The Carol of Bells,” does set the proper tone for the story, but the constant intrusion of fully-staged Christmas songs does little except to interrupt the flow of the story. The same holiday mood could be created by performing a portion of a song, perhaps sung to Holmes by holiday carolers, or maybe a song or two could quietly and unobtrusively provide a background soundtrack to the dramatic action. But stopping the story for several full-on songs and dances, while common in musical theatre, just gilds the lily in this show and only pads the production.
The play is well-acted, particularly by Sarah Hayes, who plays several different roles and lends her beautiful voice to the carols. One of Chicago’s most consistently multitalented actresses, it’s time for this young lady to star in a show of her own. Handsome Raven newcomer Damian Conrad is excellent as Watson. Although both Holmes (competently played by Graham Emmons) and Watson appear younger than one pictures as the famous gumshoe and his physician friend, both actors take on their roles with confidence and authority. Leah Frires and Conor Clark enthusiastically keep the audible alive at the sound effects table, and Matt Bartholomew nicely portrays both falsely- accused plumber James Horner, as well as Henry Baker, the innocent owner of the purloined hat and goose.
Remounts seem to be common in Chicago this holiday season and Raven Theatre has found its own beloved Christmas play with music that attracts a faithful following. The production is nicely written and staged by co-adapter Michael Menendian and skillfully musical directed and accompanied by Chris Logan. However, but the only purpose for the five musical production numbers seems to be to remind the audience that they’re watching a holiday story and to lengthen the short play. But the production is earnestly played by an ensemble of talented performers and does make for a welcome change to the usual holiday fare.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented December 10-January 3 by Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling the box office at 773-338-2177 or by going to www.raventheatre.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.