‘Holmes’ solves case of the much-needed hit

Posted June 17, 2009, at 7:56 p.m.

From the first “the game’s afoot” to the final “elementary, my dear Watson,” Penobscot Theatre Company’s “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure” is a delightful escapade and a fitting end to the organization’s 35th season. It also marks the Maine premiere of the 2007 award-winning play.

Producing Artistic Director Scott R.C. Levy has mounted a visually captivating production that transported the opening night audience to a fog-bound London, Holmes’ rooms at 221B Baker St. and the Reichenbach Falls, where the world’s most famous detective met his untimely demise at the hands of his mortal enemy, Professor Moriarty.

Levy needed a surefire hit to bounce back from slow sales for PTC’s Christmas shows, and lesser-known plays “Dinner With Friends” and “Mauritius” earlier this year. A combination of the slumping economy and the reluctance of ticket buyers to risk disappointment by seeing an unfamiliar production made it a difficult winter for PTC along with arts groups around the country.

Although Levy chose the Sherlock Holmes play long before the economy took a tumble over the falls similar to the one that claimed the famous detective, it proved to be a salient selection. The script, written by Steven Dietz and based on the original 1899 play by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, combined the mystery, the thrill of the hunt and the humor that Doyle wove into each of Holmes’ adventures.

Portraying the violin-playing detective who believes deduction can solve every mystery, Erik Parillo of New York City combined the best of the character as played by Basil Rathbone on film in the 1930s and ’40s and Jeremy Brett, who played Holmes in a series broadcast on public television during the 1980s and ’90s, and made the role his own.

Parillo added a dash of sensuality to the great detective’s intellect and the result was utterly irresistible. He also was able to gently elucidate the obvious for his sidekick, Dr. Watson, without being overly boorish.

Kat Johnson exuded intellect and sexuality as Irene Adler, the only woman the misogynistic Holmes ever considered close to his equal in brainpower. There was a bit of magic between Parillo and Johnson. Each time the couple appeared on stage together the temperature inside the Bangor Opera House went up a couple of degrees.

Their one intimate moment was so teasingly staged, so seductively artful, that theatergoers almost felt robbed when a blackout plunged Holmes and Adler into darkness seconds before the anticipated clinch. Then again, Doyle never allowed the reader to see it either.

Johnson beautifully balanced the femme fatale and woman with brains that are woven throughout her character. The local actress held her own with the much more experienced Parillo. Although Holmes is a force difficult to dismiss, theatergoers simply could not take their eyes off Johnson every time she walked into the light.

Parillo and Rich Kimball as Dr. Watson had no such chemistry. In fact, the well-known local actor looked uncomfortable in the character’s skin and seemed unsure of why the good doctor remained so loyal to Holmes for so long. Next to the well-defined Holmes which Parillo created, Kimball seemed lost and uncertain of who his character was. He gave his best performance while speaking to the audience as Watson, the chronicler of Holmes’ adventures.

It is always dodgy to cast a real English actor in a show with a bunch of Yanks. Just about the time the audience got used to the mediocre accents of the cast in this show, Bernard Hope walked onstage in one of the three parts he played and showed them how it really sounds.

Hope’s biggest and best part was as Sid Prince, one of Moriarty’s gang. The native Brit created a three-dimensional career crook, who took pride in his work and never suffered fools lightly even when he was one of them. Hope, not Watson, provided much of the show’s humor and his comic timing was perfectly synchronized with the audience’s.

Ken Stack, Gibran Vogue Graham, Allen Adams, Abby Hayward and Joe Sherman rounded out the cast and helped create an ensemble that served the plot well. Stack, in an underwritten role, never really showed the audience why his Moriarty was a foe equal to Holmes.

Lex Liang’s set and costumes gave the show a rich and luxurious look. Jonathan Spencer’s atmospheric lighting probably matched the kilowatts emitted by Victorian gaslights, but it too often left the characters’ faces in darkness and their motivations poorly illuminated.

The answer to the question bedeviling theater lovers this weekend is “elementary, dear reader” — go where “the game’s afoot.”

jharrison@bangordailynews.net

990-8207

IF YOU GO

What: “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure,” by Steven Dietz and based on the original 1899 play by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Who: Penobscot Theatre Company

Where: Bangor Opera House, 131 Main St., Bangor

When: Thursday through Sunday

What else: 942-3333 or visit www.penobscottheatre.org

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