Sherlock Holmes And The Case Of The Jersey Lily at Park Square Theatre

June 12, 2010
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Virginia Burke as Lillie Langtry, Craig Johnson as Oscar Wilde, Amanda Whisner as Irma, Steve Hendrickson as Holmes (disguised). Photo by Pteronella Ytsma.

It doesn’t lack for exuberance, this latest in an ever-lengthening line of Sherlock Holmes adaptations.  Katie Forgette‘s Sherlock Homes And The Case Of The Jersey Lily (at Park Square Theatre through July 3; 20 W. 7th Place; parksquaretheatre.org) begins, as always with these plays, with Holmes and Watson relaxing in their cluttered Baker Street digs.  Enter the famous actress Lillie Langtry, along with the great playwright Oscar Wilde.  Langtry is determined to recover her explosive love letters to the Prince of Wales, which have been stolen.  The theft provides the start to the Holmesian plot.

With the addition of Langtry and Wilde the play becomes, or tries to become, historical drama (and dramaturg Matt DiCintio‘s rather dense program note invites us to take the play seriously as a portrait of the Victorian age).  But the extreme thinness of these characters mitigates strongly against this.  Wilde has no real investment in the plot, other than to provide comedy: the running joke of the play is that many famous Wilde-isms (“To lose one parent is a tragedy; to lost both feels rather like carelessness.”) in fact originate with Sherlock Holmes.

In the second major scene, the play becomes a cross-dressing comedy as Holmes enters wearing a formal gown, auditioning for the part of Lady Bracknell in The Importance Of Being Forthright (Holmes provides the title at the end).  He fools no one – except of course Ms. Langtry and Mr. Wilde.  Then the play becomes campy melodrama.  Then a thriller, with the characters locked in an old gasworks.  Etcetera.  As it careens and lurches from style to style plenty of energy is generated – crowd-pleasing energy, to judge from the enthusiasm of the opening night audience.  The problem is the lack of a truly complex, enaging, discovery-filled plot.  One doesn’t want to get so far ahead of Sherlock Holmes.

The expert Park Square cast, as directed by David Mann, acquit themselves well.  As Moriarty, James Cada delights, hulking, yet acid-tongued and nasty, glorying in his viciousness.  Also good is the diminutive (at least compared to Cada) Brian Sostek who plays his three characters with grinning under-stated aplomb.  That Dr. Watson has so much scene-stealing life is a tribute to Steve Lewis‘s presence and comic flair.  As Sherlock Holmes, Steve Hendrickson is tall, elegant and charming, though limited by the plot structure.  Kudos also to Amanda Whisner, the villainess.

Less satisfying is Virginia Burke‘s coarse and winkingly melodramatic Lillie Langtry.  She captures none of Langtry’s famously delicate charisma.  And Craig Johnson‘s Oscar Wilde is a bewigged one note comic foil.  This works as far as it goes – Johnson is an actor of wit and style – but it also, in the opinion of this reviewer, grates.

Sherlock Homes And The Case Of The Jersey Lily is frothy summertime fare.  Have a good meal, enjoy some white wine, and go to this play not expecting much.  You won’t be disappointed.

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