WATSON, THE LAST GREAT TALE OF THE LEGENDARY SHERLOCK HOLMES by Jaime Robledo – Sacred Fools Theater – Los Angeles (Hollywood) Theater Review

by Tony Frankel on November 21, 2010

in Theater-Los Angeles

Post image for WATSON, THE LAST GREAT TALE OF THE LEGENDARY SHERLOCK HOLMES by Jaime Robledo – Sacred Fools Theater – Los Angeles (Hollywood) Theater Review

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOLMES

The world premiere of Watson, The Last Great Tale Of The Legendary Sherlock Holmes, presented by the Sacred Fools Theatre Company, has a lot going for it: side-splitting Vaudevillian-type sight gags, brilliantly inventive direction, comedic acting that harks back to silent film, insanely luminous and flowery dialogue, a cohesive plot, likeable characters, and modern references interspersed with (mostly) authentic-sounding Victorian phrasing. Writer/director Jaime Robledo is really on to something here: an homage to Sherlock Holmes mysteries that incorporates farce, imaginative stagecraft (akin to the theatrical version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps), and out-and-out dramatics.

However, Robledo’s choices in style can occasionally clash rather than complement each other; interconnectedness seems to have been sacrificed for a string of wonderful moments, making the proceedings on display uneven: some sight gags fall flat due to excessive ribaldry, and the individual characterizations range in style from wildly farcical to serious. Whether the farce needs to be toned down or the more comedic goings-on need to be added remains unclear.

What IS clear is that we are witness to a clever story (worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself), and a masterful assemblage of talent: Sherlock Holmes (Joe Fria) has convinced his ever-faithful partner in crime-solving, Watson (Scott Leggett), to join him on an adventure that takes them from Victoria Station to Turk-infested Constantinople. Mr. Fria will no doubt be compared to the incomparable Buster Keaton; his expressive dead-pan face and rubbery body perfectly complement the darker side of his persona: namely, his needle-jabbing addiction to drugs. Mr. Leggett is the ideal embodiment of Watson; it’s a wonder how agile he is, considering his corpulence. As the narrator of the piece, Mr. Leggett applies the veneer of a London gentleman quite well, but his scenes with Holmes have him basically being the straight-man sleuth to Mr. Fria’s antic detective. Being that this is a send-up, their relationship feels like it should go much more toward the realm of Laurel and Hardy (indeed, they already physically resemble the famous screen duo). When Holmes exasperates Watson by stating the obvious, the rotund Doctor says, “No shit…YOU!” That’s the direction I’m talking about.

In order to keep the audience wondering whether or not Holmes’ adversary Moriarty (Henry Dittman) is a drug-induced concoction of a cocaine-soaked brain, Robledo brilliantly assigns Dittman the task of playing five characters at once with literally the change of a hat – the results are devastatingly funny and Mr. Dittman has created one of the most memorable moments in the theatre you may ever see – his brilliant larking about is not to be missed. Likewise the unparalleled French Stewart, who takes Chaplin-esque comedy to new heights as both Sigmund Freud and Queen Victoria.

CJ Merriman plays Mary Watson; her scenes as the frustrated wife – one who is growing wearisome of Dr. Watson’s exploits with Holmes – are charming, and having her character on board will heighten the suspense of the ensuing mystery. But as lovely as she is, the uncomplicated style of her scenes feels incongruous to the proceedings (perhaps they were intended to be a breather from the zaniness of the show).

There is a good time to be had – some scenes positively crackle with exciting humor, and it must be reemphasized how clever the staging is, like a billowing white sheet used for a London fog effect – but Watson still hasn’t put its finger on what it wants to be (unless its intention is to be a mixed bag). The good news is that the core of a theatrical marvel is there – now, just some tightening, paring, and fleshing-out of the stylistic choices is all that is required. Take it on, Sacred Fools!

tonyfrankel @ stageandcinema.com

photos by Brian Taylor

Watson, The Last Great Tale Of The Legendary Sherlock Holmes
scheduled to close December 18 at time of publication
for tickets, visit http://www.sacredfools.org/

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Howard Borde November 21, 2010 at 6:28 pm

Nice writing style.

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ArtsBeatLA November 28, 2010 at 10:39 am

“…excessive ribaldry” – I wholeheartedly agree. It’s a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable show. I only had an issue with the two occasions of lewd humor that I attributed to excesses by the actor (Stewart) responsible and indulged by his director.

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