Theater Review – ‘Sherlock’ is surprisingly slow

“Sherlock Holmes.”: Photo by Harlan Taylor    Brandy Burre, Howard Kaye and Joris Stuyck in Actors Theatre’s “Sherlock Holmes.”

“Sherlock Holmes.”: Photo by Harlan Taylor Brandy Burre, Howard Kaye and Joris Stuyck in Actors Theatre’s “Sherlock Holmes.”

You would be hard-pressed to find a person completely ignorant of the character Sherlock Holmes. It might even be difficult to find someone who doesn’t find the Sherlock mysteries, at the very least, entertaining.

Director Edward Stern of Actors Theatre’s current production of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” says in his notes, “I am not an expert on Sherlock Holmes,” and I join him in that sentiment. However, I know enough to feel sure the Sherlock mysteries are far from boring, and yet ATL’s production is just that.

Publicity for the show bills it thusly: The show “brings Holmes’ pulse-quickening adventures to life in a mystery of intrigue, passion and suspense.” Despite that press release promise, Thursday’s opening-night performance delivered no such excitement.

Typical of Actors, the design elements are terrific. Neil Patel’s set is functional and versatile, while Robert Wierzel’s light design aptly evokes the dreary, dank London that is almost a character itself in the Sherlock stories. The smoke machine replicating a waterfall in the second act gets a little out of hand, but in theory it’s quite creative. The echo in the same scene also is a nice touch, thanks to sound designer Matt Callahan. Yet design can’t save a show. The production gets off to a slow start, and Howard Kaye does little to energize it. His Dr. Watson continually comes off flat: When he cries, “Oh, God!” after a death, or “Holmes!” when he fears his friend is in danger, it’s laughably expressionless.

On the other hand, several actors go to the opposite extreme, turning their characters into caricatures. Brandy Burre (Irene Adler), David Huber (James Larrabee), William McNulty (Sid Prince/Clergyman) and Carine Montbertrand (Madge Larrabee) seem to be acting in an altogether different play, something campier, with more slapstick humor. Ultimately, director Stern must be implicated for this division. At the helm of a production, the director is responsible for unifying the vision and getting everyone on the same page. At least dialect coach Don Wadsworth made sure the actors’ accents were harmonious.

Joris Stuyck, who portrays Sherlock Holmes, however, takes the most glaring misstep. It’s a given that in a play about a famous literary character, the actor playing the title role will carry the show. If that person doesn’t succeed, the show likely will not. Stuyck is too unsure of his lines to fully immerse himself in the character. Holmes must be the backbone of the play. With Stuyck simply unprepared, the show cannot stand.

Perhaps there is some blame to be laid on Steven Dietz’s adaptation, or even the 1899 original by Arthur Conan Doyle and William Gillette. The plot and characters’ relations are convoluted enough to generate disinterest — at the end of the first act, my companion and I neither knew nor cared what was going on. The second act contains one of the most pointless scenes (when Madge Larrabee reappears in yet another disguise to foil Holmes) I’ve ever witnessed.

Actors Theatre has contributed so much to Louisville, and will continue to do so. “Sherlock Holmes” is just not one of its better efforts.