The Seattle Rep’s closing piece for this season was actually born from the overwhelming success of its 2013 production of The Hound of the Baskervilles. Apparently the cast, crew and audiences had such a great time with that show it was a no-brainer to bring back the famous British sleuth for another go. Rather than returning to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s canon, the Rep has turned to local actor and playwright R. Hamilton Wright to create an original Holmes story that has the detective immersed in a wild tale featuring some of his most famous antagonists as well as matching wits and skills with America’s very own Annie Oakley. The imaginative blend makes Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem a fun show for a Seattle spring evening.
The show reunites stage designer L.B. Morse and director Allison Narver who worked together on The Hound. The two pulled out all the stops for this one, building an eye-popping stage spectacle. Clever use of projected film and stage pieces moving up, down and sideways enable the mystery to quickly move from Holmes’ flat on Baker Street to a number of specific London locales. The production features a show stopping fight on a moving train that earned its own round of applause. Deb Trout is responsible for the gorgeous Victorian costumes.
Unlike The Hound of the Baskervilles, this time around the plot’s setting remains in London. The city is filled with tourists, many of them Americans, to Holmes’ great displeasure. Everyone wants to partake in Queen Victoria’s Jubilee Celebration. The setup allows Wright to have some fun with the unique push and pull that exists between Americans and Brits who sometimes seem to share little beyond the same language. The uncomfortable coupling of the two cultures is the backbone of the mystery that develops during the course of the night.
Darragh Kennan and Andrew McGinn successfully reprise their roles as Holmes and Doctor Watson. By Act II the two had developed an engaging ease with their odd relationship, Holmes all jagged edges and Watson the quintessential good-natured Englishman. Kennan’s take on Holmes is particularly original; he seems like a tense Chihuahua as he darts through challenges from Irish thugs, British criminals and rowdy Americans, all of whom are never exactly what they first appear to be.
The plot has way too many surprises and twists and turns for me to ruin with spoilers, though I can point out that Hamilton inserts a subtle Seattle in-joke much to the delight of the opening night crowd. Suffice it so say that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle should be quite content that his iconic sleuth is in good hands in this new creation.
Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem runs through May 22 at the Seattle Repertory Theatre in the Seattle Center. For ticket information call 206-443-2222 or go to Seattlerep.org.