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reviewed by Ken Klingenmeier

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle created his Sherlock Holmes series between 1897 and 1927, he developed a character who was a non-pareil in terms of his highly skilled powers of deduction, scientific knowledge, use of disguise, and combat abilities. His apparent death at the hands of arch-enemy Professor Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls in the story entitled “The Final Problem” caused a bit of chaotic reaction amongst Sherlock fans in the late 19th century and has often led to speculation as to what actually happened at the falls; how did Holmes escape to live another day?

The falls survival question is at the very heart of playwright Jefferey Hatcher’s excellent offering, Holmes and Watson, which opens the 2018-19 season at IRT, directed by Risa Brainin. In the play, we again meet Dr. Watson (played by Torrey Hanson). Three years after the Reichenenbach Falls episode, Watson has been summoned to an island asylum by a Dr. Evans (Henry Woronicz) to help identify which of three inmates there (Michael Brusasco, Nathan Hosner and Rob Johansen) is the real Holmes. The three patients all believe they are the great detective and Dr. Evans hopes Watson’s familiarity with the man will end the mystery. The only residents on the island are the three patients, Dr. Evans, an unnamed orderly (Ryan Artzberger) and a Matron (Jennifer Johansen).

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from left: Dr. Evans (Henry Woronicz), Matron (Jennifer Johansen) and Watson (Torrey Hanson) in a scene from IRT’s production of “Holmes and Watson”.

As the play evolves, we are caught up in the task Watson is charged with, and at times, any of the inmates appear to be Holmes, while at other times none of them could possibly be the sleuth. Watson appears to be a rather good investigator in his own right and selects one of the three to be the likeliest choice. The denouement has a shattering effect and as we leave the theatre, we realize we have been utterly and completely hood-winked. Nothing we had witnessed was the truth and, indeed, some of what I have told you here is a kind of fraud as well.

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from left: Rob Johansen, Nathan Hosner, and Michael Brusasco. IRT’s production of “Holmes and Watson” asks the question: which of these three inmates is the real Sherlock Holmes?            (Photo by Alexis Morin)

You really must go see this marvelous show to grasp what I am trying to tell you here – so do that – for yourself!

In what is in essence an ensemble piece, all seven cast members are marvelous in their roles. This high quality of acting is a huge part of what carries us away and leads us to the conclusions we draw, which we later must pitch.

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Ryan Artzberger takes the flashback role of Professor Moriarty in a scene from IRT’s production of “Holmes and Watson”.

The 90 minute story is told in an intensely gripping manner, but Director Brainin has set her charges to keep a humorous aspect within the proceedings. A mysterious style of showing  flashbacks is quite effective and much aided by scenic designer Robert Mark Morgan’s dynamic set. Devon Painter has designed the costumes with great effect and Michael Klaers’ lighting design adds to the successful story-telling. Composer Michael Keck’s contribution also lends a dramatic quality to the production.

Bottomline: I am a Sherlock fan, and it is always a pleasure to see the character come to life. His appearance here comes with a bonus – the mystery surrounding his return. This is truly one of the most enjoyable Holmes stories I have ever encountered; indeed – it is one of the best stage mysteries I have ever seen. Well-written, well-wrought and well-appreciated.

Holmes and Watson will continue its run at Indiana Repertory Theatre through October 21st. For specific information on dates, show times, and ticket orders, visit IRT’s website at http://www.irtlive.com/.

  • Banner artwork by Kyle Ragsdale
  • Photos by Zach Rosing unless otherwise noted
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