By John Farrell
Robert Downey, Jr. is now the public’s best-known Sherlock Holmes – at least for those with a taste for kick-boxing action films. But long, long before Downey Holmes was a huge hit on the theatrical boards in a play by American actor-writer William Gillette, a play which opened in 1899 and ran (with Gillette as its star ) for nearly forty years. It has been revived in recent decades several times with everyone, including Leonard Nimoy, in the title role.
Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, which opened at the Long Beach Playhouse’s Mainstage Theatre last weekend, advertises itself as an adaptation of the Gillette classic by playwright Steven Dietz, and it does contain some of that play’s external action, enough to qualify a tip of the hat to Gillette, but really the play is very different and, let’s be honest, much more entertaining than the original, mixing healthy elements of Sir Arthur’s “A Scandal in Bohemia” with Gillette. The result is a very entertaining reminder of why Holmes was – and remains – immensely popular, even without martial arts.
Noah Wagner is the cool but emotionally vulnerable Holmes in this production, immensely clever, intense and, despite his aestheticism, vulnerable to the charms of Irene Adler ( the beautiful and clever Tiffany Toner,) the only woman who has ever outfoxed him. Watson is Steven Alan Carver, balding and with a modest mustache, Holmes’ friend but also, when he steps out from the stage, the chronicler of this story. Don Schlossman is Moriarty, the evil professor who Holmes finally wrestles to his death at Reichenbach Falls. Skip Blas is the comic King of Bohemia who must have an incriminating photograph returned to him so he may marry a princess. Scott T. Finn is James Larrabee, who works for Moriarty, and Judy Gish is his sister Madge. James Velasquez is Sid Prince, one of Moriarty’s creatures.
Gillette’s original play is pleasant enough as a period piece, but this Sherlock Holmes is much more: amusing as Sherlock Holmes’ very scintillating observations and behavior are put before the audience, more than occasionally exciting, with a thrilling final struggle at the Reichenbach and an ending that won’t be revealed here. If you know of Sherlock Holmes only through Robert Downey, Jr. or you feel the need for a bracing anti-dote to that particular picture of London, if you just want to have fun with the Great Detective, you’ll love this play.
Tickets are $24, $21 for seniors, $14 for students. Performances are Friday, Match 2 at 8 p.m., Saturday, March 3 at 8 p.m., Sunday, March 4 at 2 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 2 p.m. through March 24.
Details: (562) 494-1014, www.lbplayhouse.org
Venue: Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre
Location: 5021 E. Anaheim St., Long Beach