It’s fun and daring to see a local community theater tackle a staging of “Sherlock Holmes and the Curse of the Sign of Four.” This stage adaptation of what was Arthur Conan Doyle’s second Holmes novel is a totally accessible story fit for audiences of any age.
The Spokane Civic Theatre’s effort is risky because Holmes is such a universally popular character, played often and well on stage and screen. By now, any theatrical version featuring the world’s best-known sleuth must be faithful to the original, but still move with its own infused intelligence and grace.
Friday’s opening night performance featured a cast that looked fully at ease roaming the dark streets of Victorian London. What the show lacked – sharper attention to pacing and quicker scene changes – will likely be fixed as director Chris Wooley tweaks the show.
Notably, the play’s original script comes straight from the Civic’s resident technical director, David Baker, who sets the play faithfully in Conan Doyle’s 1890s London.
It’s not a simple story. Scenes jump back to colonial India, providing background for how a chest of treasure, meant to be shared by four military prisoners, has gone missing. Events take the story to London where Holmes accepts the game of unraveling the clues and finding those responsible for three deaths, including one recent victim dispatched by a poison dart.
Baker and Wooley properly give us those flashbacks in fully developed scenes – which is the best way to establish the events that lead to what comes later. They stage the Indian scenes downstage, using minimal props and lighting.
For variety and by necessity they also set other key scenes downstage. But one of them, a climactic moment when Holmes and the police capture the two chief criminal accomplices in a fast-paced night scene on the Thames, went bust in the opening performance due to failed lighting.
It’s a pretty good bet Baker and Wooley will make sure that won’t happen again.
Baker uses the central area of the Civic’s stage as an homage to Holmes. The walls have detailed maps of London streets. There’s a violin hanging upstage near a doorway. The set is authentic and, at the same time, a romanticized version of how we imagine this mythical mastermind lived.
Chris Taylor as Holmes and Damon Mentzer as the faithful John Watson are effective in their scenes. When the action involves just the two actors, “Sherlock Homes and the Curse of the Sign of Four” moves along at the right speed.
It was when scenes featured three or more actors that the pacing sometimes flagged.
The female character who becomes Watson’s romantic interest, Mary Morstan, was performed by Kari Mentzer (Damon’s wife, in fact). She’s a good fit for this role, but her vocal volume was below the rest of the other actors. In a fairly intimate theater like the Civic, that should be easily solved by having Mentzer punch it up a notch or two.
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