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'Sherlock' in need of mystery

The famed detective finds himself without a good case to unlock, and he's a nasty curmudgeon to boot.

June 17, 2005|Steven Oxman | Special to The Times

Sometimes, a show can dish out lots of witty lines but fail to feel witty. Sometimes, a production can be totally professional and yet un-involving. And sometimes -- yes, really -- a show starring the character Sherlock Holmes can lack a mystery.

It's the last, of course, that's hardest to fathom.

For what is a Sherlock Holmes story without a mystery for the famed detective to unravel? It would be like seeing a version of "Hamlet" in which the lead character kills Claudius in Scene 2, or a "King Lear" with three grateful daughters who are all thrilled to have their pop come to visit.

Perhaps that's a bit of an exaggeration, but the point is valid. In Charles Marowitz's play "Sherlock's Last Case" (written in 1984), the whodunit and why are answered awfully early on, so much so that any synopsis at all would give away the one potential surprise.

Obviously, Marowitz is after something else here, besides the solving of a narrative riddle. This is really a semi-satire on Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson, rather than an effort at a staged "The Hound of the Baskervilles."

In the production at the Colony Theatre, Marowitz's Sherlock (Time Winters) is a nasty man. Smart and capable, sure, but mean. He spits out insults to his Scottish housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Lisa Beezley), to the admiring Inspector Lestrade (Brett Elliott) and even to poor John Watson (Louis Lotorto) who wants so bad to be appreciated.

This is a Sherlock who smokes something other than tobacco in his pipe, who's so helpless, or lazy or morally superior, that he can't even serve a guest a cookie without help. This is a character an audience should love to hate, in the form of a character we've long since been taught to adore.

Marowitz seems to want us to root against Sherlock Holmes in this portrayal, but there's not a chance. He is still the sleuth who sets the standard for all others, and we're on his side no matter how sympathetic the villain.

David Rose's production bears all the marks of professionalism. It's got a revolving stage for the two settings where the story takes place. The Victorian drawing room is nicely appointed, and the costumes have just the right touch of self-consciousness. Even the near-whimsical sideburns are pleasurable.

And Rose's actors, all of them, are an impeccably adept lot. Winters projects hyper-intelligence and delivers lines that are serious mouthfuls with a fully trained mouth of his own. Lotorto captures the right degree of pathos in Watson, as he determines to deduce ever faster but finds himself inevitably behind his boss.

Watching Sherlock Holmes spew clever insults like a television sitcom butler certainly has its rewards, but they wear pretty thin pretty fast. Although there is a flatness afoot, with all the scenes played at the same pitch and pace, it's hard to blame the production for not knowing quite what to make of Marowitz's play. No matter how well they do it, this would still be the case of the missing mystery.


'Sherlock's Last Case'

Where: Colony Theatre, 555 N. 3rd St., Burbank

When: 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays; call for added performances

Ends: July 10

Price: $30-$40

Contact: (818) 558-7000;

Running time: 2 hours, 20 minutes

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