Mark Shanahan was that kid.
"I was that kid at 11 or 12 under the bed with a flashlight reading Hound of the Baskervilles. Those stories hold up; those characters hold up," says Shanahan. And now the actor/director is getting a chance, as co-director with Alley Theatre's Artistic Director Gregory Boyd, "to play with" those characters onstage in Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club.
Shanahan, who previously directed The 39 Steps and acted in Harvey, Hitchcock Blonde, Tryst, Treasure Island and Witness for the Prosecution at the Alley, says he jumped at the chance to tackle playwright Jeffrey Hatcher's new creation which puts together a short story trilogy written by Robert Louis Stevenson with the enduring Arthur Conan Doyle character of Sherlock Holmes.
On the one hand, you have Doyle who wrote great detective stories, Shanahan says, and on the other, Stevenson "starts writing about what people are capable of, scary, fun things, great stories."
Stevenson and Doyle never met - although they both attended Edinburgh University just a year apart and came to be fans of each other's efforts. Shanahan says Stevenson (Treasure Island, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde) wrote "The Suicide Club" ten years before Doyle debuted "A Study in Scarlet" but the two mesh well together. Both feature adventurous leaders with sidekicks who have a military background. And both pairs are intensely loyal to each other.
The play opens with an unhappy Holmes, not sure what his place is anymore, Shanahan says. It's not the usual 1880s setting, but after the turn of the 20th century with electric lights, movies and telephones. Someone, something, may be setting up the deaths of very prominent men and in usual Holmes style, the fate of the Empire may be at stake.
And Alley Company actor Todd Waite is back as Sherlock Holmes. "The great thing about Todd is having played the character he really has an affinity for him," says Shanahan. "He's very protective to make sure the character is not made fun of, is not a super hero, is not a pompous fool; he fleshes out a person who is troubled by his genius - and it's difficult to be Sherlock Holmes - and he struggles with it."
" If Holmes isn't warm and cuddly maybe it's because he can see things that other people don't," Shanahan says. And he points out, "Holmes is a little more fun when he's a little more depressed."
Shanahan, who also teaches at Fordham and Pace universities, points to the strength of the Holmes character in that while so many different versions of him have been done and he's been moved in time so often, but still the essential nature of the man, his intellect and his abiding strong friendship with Dr. John Watson come through. "The character can survive all of that," he says.
Two illusionists have been working on this show, Shanahan says, and he's been trying some of that magic in front of the mirror back in his room -- not always successfully. Truth is, he says, "I really don't want to know how it's done."
Another actor to note: Mark Price a native Houstonian who has been in several plays on Broadway (Mary Poppins, Wonderful Town, Mamma Mia!, Chicago and Beauty and the Beast) is making his Alley debut at Mr. Williams/Mr. Roundy.
The magic of Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club begins with performances May 25, opens May 29 and runs through June 23. 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays through Thursdays and Sundays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2:30 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays.On the Hubbard Stage at the Alley Theatre, 615 Texas Avenue. For information call 713-220-5700 or visit alleytheatre.org. $26-$70.
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