There might be something that David Ira Goldstein loves more than theater: Perhaps his wife; possibly his cats; maybe a good game of golf. But you'd never know it watching Arizona Theatre Company's world première of Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, which ATC artistic director Goldstein has helmed. This sublime staging of Steven Dietz's new play is as much a love letter to theater as it is an homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's magnificent work.
The playwright has previously adapted Bram Stoker's Dracula and P.G. Wodehouse's Over the Moon to great effect, and -- reportedly with some friendly pressure from Goldstein -- took on Holmes and Watson and their enemy Moriarty, turning them into entertaining tributes to themselves and creating a gleeful whodunit that's both deeply original and an expert homage to all things Holmesian. There's the detective's oddly curvy pipe; the distinctive, epauletted overcoat; and of course those infamous utterances: "The game's afoot!" and "Elementary, my dear Watson." But Dietz hasn't just strung together a bunch of Holmesisms or tied together two of Doyle's better stories. He's created a whole new story, one that Goldstein has lovingly brought to life with opulent staging and an impressive cast.
Dietz's genius here is in creating both story and dialogue that could pass for Doyle's own. His script is full of the kind of swanky banter that Doyle himself handed to his brainy sleuth and loyal sidekick, Dr. Watson. Dietz used as his primary source materials a pair of Doyle's Holmes stories, "A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Final Problem," and the script of an early Sherlock Holmes play written by actor William Gillette, who played the sleuth in his own Broadway adaptation in 1899. The stories provide most of the plot elements: In "Bohemia," an opera star and blackmailer becomes the only woman ever to trump Holmes; in "Problem," the Holmes saga ends when he and his longtime archenemy, Professor Moriarty, plunge to their deaths into Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls. Or do they?
If I wanted any of these characters to live, it was only so that the actors playing them would never leave the stage. Mark Capri's regal bearing and wonderful voice help turn Holmes -- who, as written by Dietz, is by turns both self-mocking and dead serious about his craft -- into a superhero. His pal Dr. Watson easily could have been overshadowed had he not been brought to life by Victor Talmadge, whose performance accommodates both subtle comedy and some necessarily arch narration. And Laurence Ballard's Professor Moriarty is the perfect mustache-twirling, vaudevillesque villain who thwarts Holmes at every turn.
Goldstein is having a whale of a time, piling on numerous yet subtle clues and visual references to earlier scenes. And while I found myself wishing that either Dietz hadn't written a fall from a cliff into his story or that that fall had somehow been staged differently, my disappointment was brief, and quickly forgotten in the joy of watching this beautifully acted, highly literate homage.
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