The Rep stages a Final Adventure, but Dennis Brown sees a final solution.

Not much can save this lackluster whodunit.

Sherlock Holmes is the most celebrated detective, and arguably the most famous character, in all fiction. For more than a century now, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master sleuth has enjoyed success on radio, in movies and on television. So it's a safe bet that his reputation will withstand Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, the current misadventure at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. On the other hand, any viewers who are here encountering Holmes for the first time might well wonder what the fuss is all about.

It doesn't require much detective work to deduce what's amiss. The first problem is Steven Dietz's checklist script. We're treated to lots of familiar Holmes-isms: the cocaine addiction, the deerstalker cap, the disguises, passing references to (the unseen) housekeeper Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade. But despite the fact that in the stories Sherlock is noted for his "rapid" and "swift" actions, the play, especially in Act One, is so top-heavy with talk that it barely crawls.

Was ever so much exposition rendered to so little effect? We are told everything, at the expense of what might be described as theater. At her wedding, for instance, the opera diva Irene Adler holds out a white rose. "It is a white rose," loquacious narrator Doctor Watson informs the audience, as if we're all numbskulls who wouldn't recognize a rose when we saw one. And so a potentially affecting moment is smothered in words. Dietz's first rule of playwriting seems to be: Don't dramatize if you can describe. Instead of situations we get instructions. "You will" do this, Holmes repeatedly instructs Watson. "You will" do that. But we rarely see Watson doing anything.

Too elementary: (left to right) Brandy Burre as Irene Adler, Howard Kaye as Doctor Watson and Joris Stuyck as Sherlock Holmes.
Jerry Naunheim Jr
Too elementary: (left to right) Brandy Burre as Irene Adler, Howard Kaye as Doctor Watson and Joris Stuyck as Sherlock Holmes.

Details

Through April 15. Tickets are $14 to $63 (rush seats available for students and seniors, $8 and $10, respectively, 30 minutes before showtime). Call 314-968-4925 or visit www.repstl.org.
The Loretto-Hilton Center, (130 Edgar Road, Webster Groves)

Midway through Act Two, I made a note to myself in which I described Joris Stuyck's title-role portrayal as "languid." It was not meant admiringly. Stuyck's Sherlock lacks color and eccentricity. But in re-reading "A Scandal in Bohemia," one of the two stories this play draws on for its patchwork plot (the other is "The Final Problem"), I discover that Watson describes Holmes as "languid." Stuyck may indeed be rendering a Sherlock who is faithful to the source material; on the stage, better perhaps to try to find something remarkable in the character.

In addition to a bland Holmes, director Edward Stern gives us a Professor Moriarty without menace, a hambone King of Bohemia and a miscast Watson. Irene Adler (Brandy Burre) is on hand to provide Sherlock's sole brush with romance, but that subplot fizzles. There is no rapport between Stuyck and Burre. Had Stern instilled his production with even a twinge of wit, we might deduce that the play is slyly trying to deconstruct Sherlock. But there's no wit here, and not much humor.

There is, however, some admirable work. From beginning to end, the sound design by Matt Callahan captures the élan of what one expects from a Holmes yarn, and some of the effects in Robert Weirzel's intricate lighting plot are clever. Note, for instance, at the start of the play how Weirzel illuminates the letter in Doctor Watson's hand. Very nice indeed. But these individual moments get swallowed up in the general malaise.

The pace picks up in Act Two, perhaps because the exposition eventually winds down. The action builds to the fateful confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls. As is the Rep's wont, when the director doesn't know what to do with the actors, the company tries to camouflage that deficiency by throwing a lot of money at the stage. Here we get a flamboyant waterfall effect, which is imaginative and fun. It also happens to be irrelevant to a satisfying evening of theater — which this is not. Sherlock Holmes is the most celebrated detective, and arguably the most famous character, in all fiction. For more than a century now, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's master sleuth has enjoyed success on radio, in movies and on television. So it's a safe bet that his reputation will withstand Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, the current misadventure at the Repertory Theatre of St. Louis. On the other hand, any viewers who are here encountering Holmes for the first time might well wonder what the fuss is all about.

It doesn't require much detective work to deduce what's amiss. The first problem is Steven Dietz's checklist script. We're treated to lots of familiar Holmes-isms: the cocaine addiction, the deerstalker cap, the disguises, passing references to (the unseen) housekeeper Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade. But despite the fact that in the stories Sherlock is noted for his "rapid" and "swift" actions, the play, especially in Act One, is so top-heavy with talk that it barely crawls.

Was ever so much exposition rendered to so little effect? We are told everything, at the expense of what might be described as theater. At her wedding, for instance, the opera diva Irene Adler holds out a white rose. "It is a white rose," loquacious narrator Doctor Watson informs the audience, as if we're all numbskulls who wouldn't recognize a rose when we saw one. And so a potentially affecting moment is smothered in words. Dietz's first rule of playwriting seems to be: Don't dramatize if you can describe. Instead of situations we get instructions. "You will" do this, Holmes repeatedly instructs Watson. "You will" do that. But we rarely see Watson doing anything.

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