Sherlock Holmes–Knight’s Gambit by Paul Falzone. Directed by Eric Peterson.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
Nick Plakias is Sherlock Holmes; photo provided
Scott McGowan is LeComte;photo provided
"Of course we can explain ourselves—can’t we, Holmes?"
In four novels and 56 short stories written between 1887 and 1924 Arthur Conan Doyle grew the legendary British detective Sherlock Holmes. In doing so he left the very deepest impression of his creation, one that has left this fictitious character with a reputation in reality. Now Paul Falzone has transplanted this all-too-real character to the eve of World War I, along with his sidekicks Dr. John Watson and Police Inspector Lestrade, in the play "Sherlock Holmes—Knight’s Gambit" currently on stage in Bennington, Vermont at the new Oldcastle Theatre Company’s home on Main Street.
Plagued with a lost actor (Nigel Gore) at the last moment, the show was postponed and slightly extended to accommodate a late replacement in the title role, Nick Plakias. He was an excellent choice for the role and made it a comfortable fit, one that Holmes himself would approve.
In brief, the fun in this play is watching these so familiar characters at an unfamiliar time in their lives. Holmes and Watson are now firmly in the late sixties while Lestrade has them beat by at least a decade. None of them operate as they did before. Caught in an uncomfortable situation early in the play when a dead body disappears at the bottom of a flight of seventeen steps, Watson utters the line quoted above. He is the odd bumbler he was seen to be in a slew of 1930s and 1940s movies. His best prescription for anything from cholera to a gunshot wound is to have a drink and he is perpetually moving toward the open bar in the rooms he and Holmes share at 221B Wimpole Street in London.
The story is a political fabrication surrounding Edward VII of England and Frederick, King of Bohemia. The world is poised for war and a plot constructed by the assassin Jules LeComte and underwritten by the infamous Moriarty is underway. The game is afoot and a foot must be as good as a mile for the action of this comic-melodrama never leaves Holmes flat; instead the world and its troubles come to him and take place in less than one 24-hour period.
Bill Tatum, a regular contributor to the fun in Bennington’s fully Equity theater, plays Lestrade as a better cop than we usually see him to be and puts the quirky spins on everything that Holmes presents. Tatum manages a quasi-Yorkshire accent well and understandably, and never loses sight of his character’s traits and goals. It’s a pleasure to watch this actor think through the mind of his Lestrade and to come up with cautiously optimistic decisions.
Plakias make the most of an elderly Holmes. He rarely sits, moves with catlike assurance, handles a poker like an epèe, points a gun like a marksmanship medal winner, pronounces odd words with a childlike simplicity, and does it all without ever removing his overcoat. Half of the time he is youthful and half the time he is elderly. His years show when he leans or bends but his inner man is revealed whenever he walks or speaks. Plakias injects a spring into Holmes’ step and keeps the thinking man’s introspective self above-board and obvious all of the time.
Richard Howe is a hoot as Watson. In ill-fitting clothing, the left-overs of a retired man without a woman to watch over him, he keep moving most of the time lest he fall over asleep from too much activity, mental and physical. Howe bumbles about a bit, as does Plakias, but the apparent age of the character allows for that and it seems to make Watson even more realistic. Howe adds nicely here to a growing list of fine performances, character-traits driven, that he has been turning in with this company.
Scott McGowan adds just the right touch to his Jules LeComte, a character who appears late the in show. Smarmy yet seductive LeComte manages to lull and lure even Holmes with his quirky personality. McGowan brings a definitive sensuality to this role. He previous work in musical theatre allows him to indulge a rhythmic personality - in all its incarnations - in his work in this play. LeComte’s "dressed for dinner" second scene is played in a smoke-backed half light that seems to indicate a dance number is coming, but instead it is the ultimate moment in Holmes’ revelations and McGowan gives in to all the possible permutations of his character’s haughty sensuality.
Peterson has brought this peculiar play to complete life and with a cast like this gives a realistic sway to their roles. Even the four smaller roles, including the off-stage Mrs. Hudson whose screams are the complete Alfred Hitchcock experience, find brief realities under Peterson’s direction. Matt C. Snowcog, in his first professional role, makes Michael Innes into one of the most fascinating characters, even when his uneasy laughter lays down a most important clue to the realities within this story. But you have to listen for it.
Physically this show works brilliantly in this revised space at the new theater. Carl Sprague’s wonderful set is reminiscent of other Holmes’ homes but this one is different and clearly show the relationship between him and Watson in its decor based on their characters’ recent activities. Liz Stott’s wonderful costumes truly define their wearers. The lighting designed by Keith Chapman is generally fine and right for the moments in the play but there is a slight tendency, I thought, to not underscore with light in this play by maintaining basic settings for a long, long time. The sound design, as handled by Cory Wheat, is very effective.
Time is running out for Holmes and friends and I cannot suggest more strongly that a trip to Bennington’s only professional theater is probably overdue. With this show you could be converted to a new regular attendee. The house on Thursday night was almost full and that’s an indication of the quality of this product. It gets four yums up, and you can hear me say that again.
Sherlock Holmes–Knight’s Gambit plays at the 331 Main Street location of Oldcastle Theatre Company in Bennington, Vermont through October 20. For information and tickets call the box office at 802-447-0564.