Review: “Holmes and Watson” (CityLit Theater Company)

CityLit Theater presents "Holmes and Watson", with Adam Bitterman as Watson (left) and James Sparling as Holmes (right). Photo by CityLit.
CityLit Theater presents “Holmes and Watson”, with Adam Bitterman as Watson (left) and James Sparling as Holmes (right). Photo by CityLit.

Show: Holmes and Watson

Company: CityLit Theater Company

Venue: CityLit Theater

Die Roll: 10

In the past five years, we’ve experienced quite the surge of interest in Sherlock Holmes and his adventures, with two movies and two competing television series, all of which the American public eagerly laps up. I admit that I’m in the Cumberbatch camp, but I do like me some RDJ as well. That said, I’d forgotten how far these entertaining versions of the character stray from the original source characters. I’d also forgotten how very interesting both Holmes and Watson are because I’ve seen them all sexied-and-actioned up by Messrs. Downey, Cumberbatch, Miller, Law, Freeman, and Ms. Liu.

Holmes and Watson brings us back to the wellspring. The play is actually two of the most famous of the Holmes short fictions: “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Final Problem”. The first act centers upon the machinations of Miss Irene Adler (Adrienne Matzen), while the second tells of the ultimate meeting between Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarty.

What’s so lovely about this piece is its simplicity: three actors, two stories, wonderful chemistry. James Sparling presents us with a most excellent hybrid Holmes – not the hyperactive overthinking man of action, nor the dreadfully staid and omniscient version played by Basil Rathbone. No, Mr. Sparling’s Holmes is alive with curiosity and relishes discovery more than having answers for every question. It doesn’t hurt that he has a fantastic Watson (Adam Bitterman) to play against. Watson is our narrator, and in so doing also becomes other characters in the play. This includes a hilarious turn as the King of Bohemia and a host of minor passersby – all impeccably distinct, one from another.

Director and adaptor Terry McCabe has chosen both the source material and his actors well, and crafted a fast-moving narrative spun out as a sort of psychological drama for Holmes. In both stories, Holmes is confronted with an intellectual equal who manages to outmaneuver him. With Irene, it’s something of benign experience; with Moriarty, decidedly less so. I wish Adrienne Matzen’s Irene Adler had more presence in the story – but alas, Sir Arthur gave her only a large cameo. Ms. Matzen is charming and bright as Irene, and serves as an able opponent to Master Holmes.

James Sparling takes a master turn in the second act, morphing into Moriarty as he recounts to Watson the encounter between Holmes and Moriarty. My only grouse is that the lights went so dim during this sequence that I could barely make out Mr. Sparling’s extremely mobile face. Fortunately, the acting saved the day.

Go and see Holmes and Watson. Its fast-paced storytelling and excellent acting make it totally worth your while.

TEN WORD SUMMARY: Versatile acting shines in a nimble, fast-paced adaptation. Elementary!

d12 – “Heckuva Good Show”