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STAGE REVIEW : Stalwart Effort Detected in 'Crucifer'

July 06, 1993|T.H. McCULLOH | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

HUNTINGTON BEACH — "The Crucifer of Blood," Paul Giovanni's dramatization of several stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, once more points up the fascination which audiences find in practically anything concerning Sherlock Holmes and his bumbling friend Dr. John Watson.

This one has all the flavor and color Holmes' fans have come to cherish: There's a curse on an elusive cask of jewels, the exoticism of old India, shadowy figures, an opium den and Dr. Watson's falling in love with--well, that's one of the surprises.

Part of Golden West College's summer Great Detective Series, "Crucifer" is colorful and elaborately produced. Indeed, a problem may be that it's too elaborately produced. Director Charles Mitchell and set designer Charles Davis have chosen to open up each scene to fill out the large stage of the college's Mainstage Theatre. But most of the scenes would be more effective in sets that didn't leave a few actors marooned in the middle of a vast expanse. Scene changes are made quickly and effectively, but often the actors are dwarfed by the grandeur--particularly in the opium den, which looks as though it might be the Albert Hall.

Other than that, though, Mitchell has put together a stalwart staging of this difficult piece, with many special effects that fool the eye and the mind. His tempos are properly brisk and his actors understand the rhythms and tones of the Holmes genre.

Although he could be a bit less emotional--Holmes was a cold-blooded, analytical beast--Robert Morris is splendid as the young detective, with a dry humor and the superior attitude that Holmes later would hone to a fine edge. Eric Hansen's Watson is equally effective, not the cluck that films made the doctor out to be, but just slow-witted enough.

Rollo Sternaman is likewise well-cast as Lestrade, a rotund question mark of an inspector, quick with the put-down and slow on the uptake. And in a 30-year flashback to early Victorian India, Sternaman doubles with ease as a lethargic native. As Maj. Ross, one of a trio caught in the curse of a maharajah's treasure, Stephen F. Silva does a notable job transforming from an imperious young British officer to a sickly, driven old man, tortured by greed and fear.

Aging isn't necessary for the actor who plays Capt. St. Clair, the second partner in the theft: The older St. Clair (William E. Watts) encounters his younger self (Terry Tychon) in an opium dream. Tychon is crisp and public school snotty as the youth, Watts haunted and decaying as the older man. Both are excellent.

Herman Dinaburg's scheming servant is somewhat overdone, almost a vaudeville turn. But Michael Richardson, as the third partner in the "cross of blood" pact, is controlled and forceful, both as young Small and as the character changed into a hideous waterfront denizen. Alice Ensor, as St. Clair's daughter, easily makes the shifts in her character meaningful--and as deceiving as they turn out to be.

* "The Crucifer of Blood," Golden West College Mainstage Theatre, Gothard Street at Center Drive, Huntington Beach. Thursdays-Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 3 p.m., through July 18. $10-$12. (714) 895-8378. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

Robert Morris: Sherlock Holmes

Eric Hansen: John Watson, M.D.

Stephen F. Silva: Maj. Alistair Ross

Terry Tychon: Young Capt. St. Clair

William E. Watts: Capt. St. Clair

Michael Richardson: Johnathan Small

Rollo Sternaman: Inspector Lestrade

Alice Ensor: Irene St. Claire

Herman Dinaburg: Birdy Johnson

A Golden West College production. Dramatized by Paul Giovanni from stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Directed by Charles Mitchell. Associate director, Renata Florin. Scenic design, Charles Davis. Lighting, Charles Davis and Bill Georges. Sound, David Edwards. Costumes, Donna Mae Dickens.

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