SHERLOCK HOLMES catches the villain at Hedgerow

by Walter Bender

Chance Dean as master detective Sherlock Holmes in Hedgerow Theatre’s production of The Crucifer of Blood.
Photo credit: Ashley Smith

Hedgerow Theatre, the venerable repertory theater in suburban Philadelphia, continues its fall tradition of bringing mystery to the Halloween season this year with SHERLOCK HOLMES AND THE CRUCIFER OF BLOOD, by Paul Giovanni. This clever piece is based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1890 novel The Sign of the Four, the second book featuring the iconic characters Sherlock Holmes and his companion Doctor Watson. The time is 1887, the place 221-B Baker Street, and the game is afoot.

Chance Dean and Dave Polgar have the difficult task of portraying Holmes and Watson, respectively. Holmes and Watson are still relatively young and not entirely familiar with each other, at least in the characterizations these two have brought to the stage: the banter is more edgy and less light-hearted, Holmes is more haughty than self-assured, and the relationship between the two seems tenuous at times, with Watson less willing to tolerate Holmes’s foibles. Viewers of the latest screen Holmes and Watson (Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law) may see certain similarities in the relationship between the two, quite unlike the older duos of Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud, or the pairing of Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce. While not always successful, the interpretation of the characters was not just a rehash of other more well-known duos, and credit the actors for bringing something new to the table.

The other “main” character of the Holmes saga is Inspector Lestrade (Jeffrey Lanigan), the Scotland Yard inspector who bumbles his way through the investigation. Lanigan portrays a very brash and combative Lestrade, who consistently jumps to incorrect conclusions and blunders into foiling Holmes’s plans to capture the villain. Ronald Comer plays Jonathan Small, the protagonist who Holmes and Watson are trying to capture. He portrays the character with gusto, and in spite of a (storyline) limp, shows great energy and enthusiasm as the man trying to avenge his wrong. Assisting Small is Tonga (Eli Detrich), an expert with a blowgun. MaryRuth Stine plays Irine St. Claire, the daughter of Captain Neville St. Claire (Zoran Kovcic) who comes to Holmes to help her father. Major Alistair Ross (Shaun Yates) is the gruff and argumentative partner of Captain St. Claire, and also in need of Holmes’ assistance. Yates’s man servant Birdy Johnson (Mario Paulo Canavarro) is the butler with a secret.

The piece was a bit confusing, whether because of the property itself or the director’s vision. The play seemed to not be sure whether it was serious or light-hearted, so at times it was both, and neither mood carryied the tone of the piece. Some of the lines delivered in a sarcastic tone for comedic effect might have been just as effective delivered seriously and vice versa. I would like to have seen it played one way or the other more consistently. That being said, the pacing of the show was excellent, never plodding or dull, and the actors never seemed to be rushing to keep the pace moving.

As I was watching the play, one thought kept running through my mind: they have this gorgeous and perfect backdrop of the grist mill’s walls, but why aren’t they using them? The walls of the set (Zoran Kovcic) convey the age and majesty of late 1800s Britain, yet they minimized it by using the skeleton of a bay window and black masking flats. The setting would have been much better served by placing the window on either stage left or right and leaving the back wall uncluttered. A little more detail to the set would have made the atmosphere better for the audience and easier for the cast. Non-dependence on “stuff” is commendable, but the lighting and set should be considered an actor as well and treated with the same respect.

Overall, this was a pleasant evening. I overheard audience members discussing who they thought “done it” during intermission, and there were many positive comments after the show. Doing a play featuring such well known characters is a difficult challenge. Kudos to Hedgerow for bringing this show to the public.

Written by Paul Giovanni
Directed by Jared Reed
October 4-November 25, 2012
Hedgerow Theatre
64 Rose Valley Road
Rose Valley, PA 19063

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