Poor Sherlock Holmes is depressed. Well, who wouldn't be, with this bloody dreary London weather we've been having for the past month?
As Jeffrey Hatcher's new play opens, Dr. Watson finds the lanky detective morose and sprawled on a chaise longue. Not even the kicky cocaine solution (7 percent) that Holmes fancied can cheer our hero.
What to do? Well join a suicide club, of course. That is the key that turns on the switch of Hatcher's "Sherlock Holmes and the Adventures of the Suicide Club," which opened Friday in a regional premiere at Park Square Theatre in St. Paul.
Park Square has found Holmes to be box-office catnip in the summers of 2008 and 2010, both times with actor Steve Hendrickson in the title role. He returns, a bit less robust than previously, not crackling and confident in his dialogue. But Hendrickson's gaunt pallor sets up the ruse that Sherlock is feeling worn out and less than himself.
Bob Davis again is our Watson, a role he played in 2008. It's more an impression than a distinct memory, but the chemistry between the two seemed sharper then, more playful and charismatic. In Hatcher's play, directed ably by David Mann, Watson and Holmes don't really start clicking as a team until the second act.
It would be criminal to reveal the plot machinations. Suffice to say there is murder afoot in foggy London in the guise of distressed souls who have joined a compact through which they agree to kill and be killed — by each other. It's macabre, yes, but Hatcher twists the story with so many delicious red herrings that even Perry Mason couldn't untangle it. Sherlock, of course, does.
Mann gets solid performances from a good cast. Bruce Bohne is particularly fun as a cadaverous old gent confined to a wheelchair and just dying to die. Allen Hamilton delivers proper British bluster as Holmes' brother, and Charity Jones is the coy and slightly enigmatic secretary of the club — though her accent seems to wobble between south London and Count Dracula's ZIP code.
Mann keeps the work moving swiftly on a set efficiently designed by Michael Hoover, using projections by Todd F. Edwards to indicate place. The effect supports Mann's vision of this as a dark, moody piece with an occasional slick sleight-of-hand trick. Katharine Horowitz has found the right music to stitch scenes together, and costumer Andrea M. Gross has pulled out the caps, top hats and tweedy suits from the Sherlock closet.
Hatcher takes time to arrange the architecture of his play, but once it is erected, the action whirls with the wickedly complex deductions so much a part of Holmes' character.
Holmes has not shaken off all his choler by evening's end (has he ever been truly sanguine?). He has, though, again fed his addiction to untangling an astonishing criminal ring. The show should have Park Square rather happy with its audiences. Now, about the weather.