Sherlock Holmes And The Adventure Of The Suicide Club by Park Square Theatre

Steve Hendrickson as Sherlock Homes.  Photo by Petronella Ytsma.

Steve Hendrickson as Sherlock Homes. Photo by Petronella Ytsma.

What’s the business of the Suicide Club?  “Death,” stentorily intones Mr. George (in a terrific performance by James Cada), with equal parts grinning euphoria and stern reverence.

Ah, yes.  Sherlock Holmes And The Adventure Of The Suicide Club (at Park Square Theatre through July 14) is gleefully death-haunted.  Playwright Jeffrey Hatcher explores Holmes’s conviction that Death is nipping at his Victorian heels.  This morbidity is an essential part of the Holmes gestalt; why else does he investigate crimes with such avidity, employing vicious logic and astonishingly accurate conjecture?  Why else does he play the violin so compulsively, pace his cluttered flat like a caged jungle-cat, inject himself with cocaine?  It’s Hatcher’s conceit (and his considerable accomplishment) to focus on this creepy Holmesian obsession.

In this adventure (Hatcher uses material from one of Robert Louis Stevenson’s lesser known short stories), Holmes, tired of life, tired of being “nothing but a brain,” joins the Suicide Club, whose members pay a princely £40 for the privilege of picking billiard balls out of the Club Secretary’s top hat: if they pick the black ball, they die.  If they pick the red one, they are fated to slay the chooser of the black ball.  Off they go, the killer and the killee, into the foggy London night.  “Suicide by second party.”  Fascinating.  I watched this dance of death with unflagging interest.

The actors play their parts to the macabre hilt.  Goofy and ghoulish Nathan Christopher gobbling creamuffs, arch and grinning James Cada, powerful and hulking Allen Hamilton, Bryan Porter the effete Russian nobleman, convincingly beloved of the not-quite-what-she-seems Kathryn Wind.  I was particularly taken with wheelchair bound yet light-hearted and life-loving Bruce Bohne.  At first I wondered why such a delightful person was in the Club; there turns out to be a reason which of course I am not going to share.  Nice performances are delivered by Charity Jones as the Secretary, Karen Weise-Thompson as Mrs. Hudson and Bob Davis as narrating Dr. Watson.

And of course, saving the best for last, Steve Hendrickson as Sherlock Holmes.  Tall, angular, lean and nasty, gaily predatory, Hendrickson effortlessly threads the needle between Holmes’s depressive languor and his overwhelming need to pick up the rocks of evil (they’re everywhere) and expose the foully wriggling worms beneath.  Hendrickson’s work anchors the play and provides the best reason to see it.  Perfection.

As a responsible reviewer, I must report that not all is perfection here in Hatcher’s Holmes-land.  The play grows garbled and difficult to follow.  Characters refuse to develop.  If you’re looking for the familiar zestful Holmes, exuberantly on the hunt, well, Sherlock Holmes And The Adventure Of The Suicide Club may not be for you (I would refer you to the excellent British modernization starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman).  But, imo, the fascination with Death and the excellent acting makes this piece worthwhile and then some.

David Mann‘s production is spare and focused.  He and his designers, to their credit, forgo the clutter at 221B and, using projections, smart costumes, and a few set pieces, vividly recreate turn-of-the-century London.

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Sherlock Holmes And The Adventure Of The Suicide Club is the final play of PS’s 12-13 season.  13-14 has been announced; check out the theater’s website.

For more information about John Olive, please visit his website.

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