Monday, January 29, 2024

Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson – Apt. 2B - Playhouse on Park

There have been countless derivations of Arthur Conan Doyle’s masterful detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner Dr. Watson in film, television and the theater.  A new entry into this ever-expanding universe is Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson – Apt. 2B.  The show is at Playhouse on Park in West Hartford through February 18.

As a long-time Sherlock Holmes fan, I welcome any addition to works about the iconic sleuth.  Unfortunately, playwright Kate Hamill’s contribution to the Holmes canon falls short with overstuffed intrigue, a lot of unnecessary schtick, and an unfocused plot that is hard to follow.  Ms. Hamill has had a great deal of success with her gender-bender take on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  For that work, she had the luxury of riffing on a classic piece of literature.  With Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson – Apt. 2B, she needed to craft an original mystery with comic overtones.  Not an easy task.
Kelly Letourneau and Kirsten Peacock in Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson - Apt. 2B

The time is the present and we are quickly introduced to Joan Watson, a spunky, though slightly introverted American seeking solace from her previous life (the first mystery!).  She lets a room, Apt. 2B (presumably at 221B Baker Street) from the daffy landlady Mrs. Hudson and is abruptly introduced to the eccentric, melancholy detective Sherlock (yes, it is also a woman’s name) Holmes.  They bicker and banter until the arrival of Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard who needs their help.  The game is suddenly afoot and for the next 2 ½ hours there is murder, mayhem, and surprises.  Familiar characters from the Holmes books – Irene Adler and Professor Moriarity – are woven into the production.  However, by the show’s conclusion, all the twists and turns appear disjointed and prove to be unsatisfying.
Director Kelly O’Donnell, who last year won a Connecticut Critics Circle Award as Best Director for Indecent at Playhouse on Park, keeps the tempo at a heightened speed.  Her staging around the few set pieces in Lindsay G. Fuori’s booklined Scenic Design are positioned around the stage with rapid-fire pacing.   The direction, utilizing Johann Fitzpatrick’s cagey Light Design and Rachel Landry’s jokey Sound Design, can be goofy, droll and sporadically entertaining.  There are intermittent laughs especially from the frequent cultural references (Star Wars, among others) scattered throughout the script.  Most zip by with fleeting acknowledgement.  The brief homage to the Batman TV series, however, does find its humorous mark.
Kelly Letourneau and Kirsten Peacock in Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson - Apt. 2B

The cast is game for the mischievousness and roguishness unleashed by the playwright.  The four performers work hard to generate the irregular laughs.  While there is ample time to develop their respective characters, they still seem more two-dimensional than fully realized.  Kirsten Peacock’s portrayal of the world famous private investigator is somewhat staid, with only fleeting instances of playfulness.  Kelly Letourneau imbues Joan Watson with a spirited determination, but her characterization is undermined by a constant reference to her cagey past and anguish.  Megan McDermott, playing multiple roles, primarily Mrs. Hudson and arch nemesis Irene Adler, seems to be having a lot of fun with her portrayals, playing them broadly and slightly off-center.  Nick Nudler provides a number of satisfying looks, whether it is as the lumbering Inspector Lestrade; the wealthy Elliott Monk or the diabolical Professor Moriarity.
Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson – Apt. 2B, running through February 18 at Playhouse on Park.  Click here for information on dates, times and tickets.

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