Chicago Theatre Review
An Elementary Tale
Holmes and Watson – City Lit
Specializing in theatrical adaptations of great novels and noteworthy literature, City Lit is reviving Terry McCabe’s previously presented 2006 script, based upon two lesser known stories by Scottish author, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. The relationship between the shrewd English detective Sherlock Holmes and his close personal friend and accomplice Dr. John Watson is explored in two tales depicting their mutually respectful rapport. The fictional Holmes, who employed his sharp deductive reasoning to sleuth seemingly unsolvable cases, first appeared in print in 1887 in Doyle’s novel, A Study in Scarlet. A master of disguises with a talent for forensic medicine, the British bloodhound’s popularity continued in the novel, The Sign of Four and later in his famous Hound of the Baskervilles. The first and last of a series of Sherlock Holmes short stories becomes the basis for this two-hander. “
A Scandal in Bohemia” involves the one female in all of the Sherlock Holmes canon for whom he acknowledged reverence. Retired American opera star Irene Adler had been involved for years in an affair with the Crown Prince of Bohemia. The monarch, afraid that his previous dalliance will sour his intended’s desire to wed, and worried about the diva’s power to possibly blackmail him, he enlists Holmes‘ help. The lady’s shrewdness coupled with an incriminating photograph prompted Holmes to always refer to her as “The Woman.”
Act II continues the development of the Holmes-Watson relationship through their last adventure together, “The Final Problem.” This story features their famous arch-nemesis, mathematics expert Professor Moriarty. The entire production plays out as story theatre with Watson, as is often the case within Doyle’s stories and novels, providing the narration.
As director of this production, Terry McCabe has kept his staging and his stage simple and tastefully uncluttered. Backed by Ross G. Hoppe’s subtle, monochromatic backdrop of a foggy Victorian London street, only a small desk and a handful of chairs provide all the scenery required. Adam Bitterman as Watson not only exquisitely narrates and portrays Holmes’ friend, but morphs into the Crown Prince, Moriarty and a number of minor roles. Mr. Bitterman is energetic and eloquent, particular in his mastery of various required dialects. He certainly keeps this production moving along at respectably clipped pace. British actor James Sparling masters the role of Sherlock Holmes. Part of the beauty in his portrayal lies in Mr. Sparling’s penetrating stare, his delicate facial reactions and his ability to seamlessly transform into other characters at the drop of a hat. In the lesser role of Irene Adler, Adrienne Matzen is polished and sophisticated in speech and movement. Unfortunately the actress doesn’t appear in the second act and is sadly missed.
Bringing their second helping of Sherlock Holmes to Chicago audiences, City Lit offers to theatergoers a fine alternative to the oncoming avalanche of holiday productions. With its intimate setting and suggestive Victorian costumes by LaVisa Angela Williams, there’s very little to detract from Arthur Conan Doyle’s delectable, descriptive words. This production unfolds with brisk potency, as if a trio of skilled storytellers has dropped by to share with relish two of their favorite Baker Street sagas. It’s an elementary entertainment featuring two tingly tales guaranteed to take the chill off a cold Chicago night.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented November 7-December 14 by City Lit, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr Ave., Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 773-293-3682 or by going to www.citylit.org.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found by visiting www.theatreinchicago.com.