Dorset's "Sherlock" needs no sleuthing

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DORSET >> Theatre companies know a hit when they see one. It's a reason why so many include detective procedurals in their season. Occasionally, some of those plays successfully add comedic elements that make for a memorable production.

That's the case — no pun intended — with Dorset Theatre Festival's midsummer run of Katie Forgette's "Sherlock Homes and the Case of the Jersey Lily." It's about as intelligent, fanciful, and witty a Holmes as you can find on the stage anywhere this summer. The show is directed by Margarett Perry.

The action finds us in 1890s London, where famed actress Lillie Langtry (Jennifer Rohn) is assaulted by an operative (Carlos Dengler) of arch-criminal mind and Holmes rival Professor Moriarty (Brian Dykstra). The Man stole Lillie's past love letters to and from the Prince of Wales.

In return, the blackmailing Moriarty wants the grand jewels Wales had long ago given to Lillie during a tryst. The Crown understandably also wants those jewels back, and Lillie wants the letters.

With her maid Mrs. Tory (Dana Burger) and her best friend Oscar Wilde (Oliver Wadsworth) in tow, Lillie seeks out the assistance of Sherlock Holmes (Kirk Jackson) and his sidekick Dr. Watson (Christopher V. Edwards).

Of course, the twists and turns from that point on are endless, but so are the chuckles, giggles and outright laughter, all for good measure.

This is not a dreary Holmes play, and there is still enough suspense for the mystery fan to appreciate. But clearly, Ms. Forgette saw a chance to mix in a little spoof with the crime, and Ms. Perry's players carried it out masterfully.

Young actors Andrew Elk and Asa Learmonth most ably rendered the minor roles of Roddick and Flynn. Dengler, who tripled as two other minor characters, Abdul Karim and John Smythe, is a most talented and capable Thespian, shifting from one role to the other effortlessly and persuasively.

Dykstra gave us a dastardly understated Moriarty, perfect for a show in which humor played a role. His intellectual deviousness was just right and his smugness nicely complemented the same in rival Holmes.

Edwards' Watson was an amiable chap whose schoolboy swooning over Lillie delighted the audience countless times. Ms. Forgette could, and should, have given him a dash more of the man-of-science bent to flesh out Watson, but Edwards worked very well with the toolkit handed to him.

Berger! Doubling up as Holmes' housekeeper Mrs. McGlynn, she came across as a spitfire, a smoldering Cockney wench cloaked by the niceties of society in which Mrs. Tory had to operate. We could swear she actually hissed at times – nicely done!

A classic beauty in real life away from the bright lights, Roan was a deft piece of casting. Her carriage was strong and noble, yet never losing the necessary vulnerability that makes Lillie who she is. Just watching her perform is enough to make one want to surrender to her every whim.

As a fan long accustomed to Jeremy Brett as the ultimate Holmes, I found Jackson formidable in the role, even if DTF chose to go with a silver-haired version of the sleuth. Jackson does edgy. He does it well. He has presence with just the right touch of condescension. Jackson looks like the smartest guy in the room. Even better: he can yuck it up, too. What else can you want from this particular Holmes?

Finally, Wadsworth deserves a separate bow all his own for his portrayal of Wilde. In a completely fanciful insertion in the legend of Homes, Wadsworth delivered line after line of well-timed humor – as well as attitude - which quickly made him the crowd favorite and show-stealer of the evening. And hear this: you won't want to miss how he ends up naming one of his greatest works.

The show ran about 2 hours and 10 minutes, with a 15 minute intermission included.

Lights by Michael Giannitti – DTF's inimitable producing director and techie wizard – dazzled with their effects, as did perfectly timed sound by Jane Shaw. David Toser's costumes were playful yet adept metaphors of late 19th century London, and Debra Booth's set was aesthetically dark, yet nicely utilitarian.

Stage manager Jess Johnston had her crew in mid-run form, and a shout-out must go to Unkle Dave's Fight-House for the phantasmagoric hand-to-hand combat sequences, which added much to the play's physical comedy.

In the end this is a solid Holmes mystery that also worked well as a whimsical mid-summer offering. We are reminded, during its course, in true Holmes fashion, that there is a difference between seeing and observing.

As such, theatre fans within two hours of Dorset must make the trip to one of Vermont's most beautiful spots and see (or observe) for themselves what all the sleuthing and pure fun are about.

"Sherlock Homes and the Case of the Jersey Lily" runs through July 25 at Dorset Theatre Festival, 104 Cheney Rd., in Dorset. For tickets and information call 802-867-2223 or visit www.dorsettheartrefestival.org

Telly Halkias is an award-winning freelance journalist and a member of the American Theatre Critics Association (ATCA). E-mail: tchalkias@aol.com Twitter:@TellyHalkias


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