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Review: 'Sherlock Through the Looking Glass' tests sanity

August 19, 2013|By Philip Brandes
  • Sherlock Holmes (Kevin Stidham) and Dr. Watson (Timothy Portnoy) find their rationality tested by the denizens of Lewis Carroll's Wonderland in "Sherlock Through the Looking Glass."
Sherlock Holmes (Kevin Stidham) and Dr. Watson (Timothy Portnoy) find… (Rob Cunliffe )

As a spate of spontaneous serial psychosis grips Victorian-era London, a theatrical classic lit mash-up pits the deductive reasoning of the world’s most famous fictional detective against the nonsensical conundrums of a fictionalized Lewis Carroll in “Sherlock Through the Looking Glass,” from North Hollywood’s Porters of Hellsgate. Despite a premise with intriguing possibilities, the play’s thematic wedge between logic and rationality threatens the sanity of all concerned — including, unfortunately, the audience.

Written and directed by company associate artistic director Gus Krieger, the script is constructed with obvious devotion to Carroll’s Alice books and Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes canon. An abundance of referential riches, from verbatim passages to biographical details, are threaded through a brand-new Holmes case involving a nefarious master criminal known as the Jabberwock. Careful research and fidelity alone don’t guarantee a classic homage however, and the implementation here lacks both the performance and production resources — not to mention the editing restraint — to make the project successful.

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Sherlock Holmes is a role with a built-in sand trap — coming across purely as intellectual show-off — from which Kevin Stidham’s stilted lead performance fails to extricate itself. The best Holmes portrayals honor the character’s archetypal subtext: Holmes’ analytical and observational superpowers come at equally great psychological cost, and it falls to Watson to carry the team’s intuitive and feeling functions; together, they form a complete human being. Without that fundamental partnership, Timothy Portnoy’s Watson is little more than a tag-along sycophant.

The mystery-driven first half moves at a fairly brisk pace, but a second-act plunge into Carroll’s Wonderland proves pretentious and interminable as 12 cast members in cheesy stylized masks chant and hop in unison through barely intelligible recitations from Carroll’s text. The minimalist black box set forgoes all opportunity for imaginative design.

The lone survival tip I took away from a very long evening: If you ever find yourself menaced at gunpoint, persuade your assailant to munch on that hallucinogenic-laced apple you had the foresight to stash in your pocket. Works every time.

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“Sherlock Through the Looking Glass,” Whitmore Theatre, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood. 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Ends Sept. 22. $20. (818) 325-2055 or PortersSherlock.brownpapertickets.com. Running time: 2 hours, 40 minutes.

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