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THEATER REVIEW / 'SHERLOCK'S LAST CASE' : Unwrapping the Holmes Myth

April 29, 1993|TODD EVERETT | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

An often witty dismemberment of the Baker Street mythos, Charles Marowitz's "Sherlock's Last Case" is Holmes for people who hold little respect for the venerable detective. Or better, for those who don't know him all that well.

The amusing play, under Dori Pelto's direction, can be seen at the Art Center Theater in Ojai, weekends through May 15.

In the tradition of "Sleuth," this is a story that you don't want to know too much about in advance. Suffice it to say that Sherlock Holmes and his associate, Dr. Watson, are the protagonists, and that Marowitz gives their long and celebrated relationship a twist that has reportedly angered Sherlockians the world around.

The twist, it must be said, comes from an only cursory reading of the Holmes canon as chronicled by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; Marowitz gets too many details wrong to be taken seriously. Holmes did not keep his tobacco in a hollowed-out book, for instance, and the Baker Street Irregulars were Holmes' helpers, not his collective nemesis.

Holmes' constant enemy was the evil Professor Moriarty ("the Napoleon of crime," according to Conan Doyle's Holmes), who's here in spirit. Holmes' housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, and Scotland Yard Inspector Lestrade are both very much on hand--though Lestrade and Holmes are much chummier here than fans might recall, and Holmes treats dear old Mrs. Hudson rather abominably.

The action--most of it, anyway--is set in Holmes' rooms at 221B Baker St. in Victorian London, a scene nicely recreated in Elmer Bladow's atmospheric set.

Ron Rowe, an authentic Englishman, plays Holmes, and at times it seems he's the only person in the cast who speaks with anything approaching the proper accent (Lestrade, a Cockney? Well!). He also has a nice feel for the detective, even as he figuratively dismembers the character. As Watson, Bruce Alan Solow is a testament to clever though uncredited makeup, and harrumphs adequately in one of the play's several ever-changing accents. Marge Sandwell plays the put-upon Mrs. Hudson.

Jordan Wendcost would be considerably more convincing as Lestrade were he to affect a somewhat tonier accent, and seriously reconsider wearing what appears to be a very 1970s leather jacket in several scenes.

Karen Moncharsh is appealing in her brief turn as the mysterious woman whose appearance sets the adventure into gear (though Conan Doyle's Holmes would never cozy up to a woman the way that he does to her). Dan W. Loer and Norman Scharke contribute greatly in roles that shall remain undisclosed here--Scharke showing great resourcefulness when a pistol didn't fire.

A few more brief words on the acting, or at least about the reading:

On opening night, several of the actors gave the impression they had the attitude that one word is pretty much as good as another, if both contain several of the same letters. Someone might advise them that, for instance, "relative" does not mean the same thing as "relevant," and that "explicable" and "inexplicable" mean the opposite of one another. True, much of Marowitz's dialogue is rapid-fire (particularly in the second act), but using wrong words makes the play considerably more confusing than the author had in mind.

* WHERE AND WHEN

"Sherlock's Last Case" continues Fridays and Saturdays through May 15 at the Ojai Art Center Theater, 113 S. Montgomery St. in Ojai. Performances are at 8 p.m., with a Mother's Day matinee May 9. Tickets are $8; $6 for seniors and Art Center members. For reservations or further information, call 646-0117.

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