Chicago Theater Review: HOLMES AND WATSON (City Lit at the Edgewater Presbyterian Church)

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by Lawrence Bommer on November 12, 2014

in Theater-Chicago


Over many seasons P.G. Wodehouse and Arthur Conan Doyle have been very good to City Lit, rightly since the theater fully returns the compliment. Reviving a past pleasure, director Terry McCabe’s sprightly adaptation of Holmes and Watson puts the cocaine-snorting, deduction-delivering master detective and his brusque physician-sidekick through two seminal adventures: “A Scandal in Bohemia” and Adam Bitterman and James Sparling in City Lit Theater's HOLMES AND WATSON, playing through December 14 - photo by Tom McGrath.“The Final Problem,” both of which thoroughly earn their titles. Watson busily narrates most of the concatenations, as well as depicting the rogues that come with the gallery.

Using only three actors, four chairs, a table, a London backdrop and 100 minutes, this detecting duo showcases the thespian and forensic skills of the titular twosome. James Sparling oozes charisma as the quicksilver and dexterous Baker Street crime fighter—his only flaw being a tendency to sacrifice diction and clarity to rapid-fire declamation during intense bursts of intuition and ratiocination. You sense here that Holmes, with his penchant for impersonation and subterfuge, was a frustrated actor as well as violinist. Almost military in his gruff but game enthusiasm, Adam Bitterman is a bulldog of fierce friendship, ever ready to take a hint or set a devious plan in rapid motion. Their partnership is as palpable as the menaces they thwart.

The 1888 threat in “A Scandal” is more social than serious. The King of Bohemia, it seems, has been blackmailed over a dangerous photograph depicting his now-ended liaison with the American opera singer Irene Adler (lovely Adrienne Matzen). To Holmes, Irene will always be a chaste goddess and the (unconsummated) love of his life—but now she presents a problem. Holmes must harness his psychological James Sparling (left) and Adam Bitterman in City Lit Theater's HOLMES AND WATSON, playing through December 14 - photo by Tom McGrath.acumen to get Miss Adler to reveal the incriminating picture—but in this adventure he meets his match in guile and spunk.

A much more dire and fatal encounter that spans three tumultuous days in the spring of 1891, “The Final Problem” pits Holmes against his archetypal nemesis and doppelganger, the former mathematics teacher Professor James Moriarty. Anticipating ISIS or Al Qaeda, this “Napoleon of crime” weaves a web of international criminality, his evil fingers in a dozen pies. In what was supposed to be Holmes’ last story, the good dick and the vile malefactor literally descend into history, after a fateful showdown at Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls. Bitterman’s ravaged requiem registers Holmes’ loss beyond words.

McCabe’s chamber-theater distillation of these swift-moving odysseys delivers some rollicking talespinning, casting the inevitable spell that Conan Doyle perfected long ago.

photos by Tom McGrath

Homes and Watson
City Lit
Edgewater Presbyterian Church
1020 West Bryn Mawr Ave.
scheduled to end on December 14, 2014
for tickets, call (773) 293-3682 or visit

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