By Daniel Skora
There’s been a serious depletion of capital in the bank account of master detective Sherlock Holmes. He hasn’t had a profitable case in months, the bills are coming due, and Dr. Watson, Holmes’s confidant and biographer, is pressing him to take on a client. But unbeknownst to Watson, the ennui that has befallen Holmes is soon to be shaken. Into the hallowed walls of Holmes’s parlor walks a man with a bloody bandage wrapped around his head, followed, in short order, by a young woman shrouded in mourning dress and flashing money roll of a thousand pounds. And so begins “The Adventure of the Elusive Ear”, playwright David MacGregor’s fanciful addition to the Sherlock Holmes saga currently having its world premiere at the Purple Rose Theatre.
The play, a nicely crafted blend of comedy and drama, remains faithful to the persona of the super sleuth even while taking liberties with others who are part of the Sherlock Holmes literary tradition. In addition, two real-life historical characters have been added to the mix. The time is December of 1888 and Holmes (Mark Colson) has become something of a man of leisure when the play opens, lounging around in a colorful silk robe while courting his calabash, the pipe which with which he has come to be identified. He’s somewhat of a secondary character throughout the first act what with Watson (Paul Stroili) and Mrs. Hudson (Sarab Kamoo) giving the play much of its initial energy. Mrs. Hudson is actually Irene Adler, a romantic interest of Holmes that his creator Arthur Conan Doyle once wrote into a story. She now poses as Holmes’s housekeeper to cover up the fact that the relationship between the two has blossomed into a full blown love affair.
The plotline begins to take shape with the arrival of the pathetically amusing Dutch post impressionist painter Vincent van Gogh (Tom Whalen). Van Gogh has recently left behind both Arles, France and his stormy relationship with his rival Gauguin and arrived in London to seek out the legendary detective. He’s followed by Marie Chartier (Caitlin Cavanaugh), daughter of the evil Dr. Moriarty whom Arthur Conan Doyle created when he decided he’s had enough of Holmes and wanted to kill him off. Chartier has an axe to grind with Holmes in addition to coveting a painting by a certain one-eared artist.
Not to get left out of this most august gathering of personalities and overachievers is the author and bi-sexual bon vivant Oscar Wilde (Rusty Mewha). Wilde is present not only to add his celebrated intellectual wit to the proceedings but a bottle of absinthe as well. It’s his wittiness that accounts for the running gag that has Mademoiselle Chartier, who despises wit, bursting into an outrage every time Wilde utters one of his delicious bon mots. Yet another running gag has to do with Dr. Watson never being able to properly sound out the consonant cluster for Vincent’s last name as pronounced in the German and written as ĝokh′.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear” holds many surprises and delights and to divulge any or all of them would require an equal number of spoiler alerts. Suffice it to say, the play is multi-facetted theatre, exceptionally well done, wonderfully scripted by MacGregor, marvelously directed by Guy Sanville, and richly supported with top-of-the-line production values. It’s humorous, witty, thrilling and action-packed (witness the sword fight between its two lovely ladies), topical (women rule, or at least will not be overcome), creative (fiction and historical characters blended seamlessly), flush with artsy discussion (plenty of talk about the aesthetic and future of impressionistic art), and finally, and most importantly, one superb piece of entertainment.
It features a stellar cast, most well-known to Purple Rose audiences, all suitably matched to their character. Everyone, even those with less juicy parts, are a vital part of the production. The set, design by Bartley Bauer, is a beautifully rendered replica of the parlor-like room in Holmes’s living quarters, with books shelved to the sky on one side of a glass cupola, and all the gadgets and gizmos that assist Holmes in his discoveries on the other. Costumes, designed by Suzanne Young, nicely recall those of the Victorian era. Lighting is by Noele Stollmack and sound by Brad Philips. Properties come courtesy of Danna Segrest while stage manager for the production is Angie Kane Ferrante.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Elusive Ear” runs through May 26th. Ticket reservations may be made by calling the theatre’s box office at 1.734.433.7673 or going online at www.purplerosetheatre.org. The Purple Rose Theatre is located at 137 Park Street in Chelsea. Exit at 159 if you’re coming west on I-94.