Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily Never Quite Takes Off

The setup:

The characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are now in the public domain, as the copyright has expired, so authors other than the originator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, can use these characters in their own works. Playwright Katie Forgette has done so in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, creating a comedic mystery set in 1890 and involving the then leading theatrical star Lille Langtry, known as "The Jersey Lily".

The execution:

The cast of characters, besides the three already mentioned, are Oscar Wilde, here a close friend of Mrs. Langtry and her constant companion; Mrs. Tory, Mrs. Langtry's housekeeper; Professor Moriarty, Holmes's archenemy; Shahab Pierre, a henchman of Moriarty; and Abdul Karim, an emissary from the Prince of Wales, with whom Mrs. Langtry once had a dalliance.

The plot might seem energetic, on paper, as it includes Pierre chloroforming Mrs. Langtry and later abducting her, an incriminating letter, a forged letter, blackmail, a valuable necklace, lies, deceptions, professional jealousy of Mrs. Langtry's success, guns, knives, bondage, cross-dressing, and a duel. Yet in fact, the play is primarily characters standing around while they chit-chat.

The play is implausible, I believe deliberately so, since playwright Forgette can't really expect us to swallow it. Holmes at one point impersonates a lady, veiled, but still revealing the chiseled features of Arnold Richie, who portrays Holmes. The female impersonation is so crude that we are meant to be amused by it. Richie captures the look, but doesn't find the smug arrogance Basil Rathbone brought to the film role.

Maud Ella Lindsley plays the Jersey Lily, and conveys her beauty, poise and sophistication. Tad Howington plays Dr. Watson, an underwritten part, and communicates his sophomoric infatuation with Mrs. Langtry so well it makes the character an idiot. John Mitsakis portrays Oscar Wilde, whom I had imagined as a bit like Vincent Price, though Mitsakis is less tall and less slender. Mitsakis poses a lot, and has a mannered delivery, as Mr. Wilde might well have, though I would think the self-proclaimed genius would have better things to do than open doors for Mrs. Langtry.

Peggy Butler plays Mrs. Tory, the housekeeper, a more important role than one might think, and I quite liked her. Shawn Havranek played Moriarty with polish and an evil glint in his eye, all that can be expected. John Smythe was excellent as Moriarty's henchman, finding his disgruntled malice. And Sam Martinez is credible as the Prince's agent, a cameo role.

Doris Merten directed this endeavor, and has found some of the humor, though not enough to attract my attention away from some of the interesting Victorian-style furniture, or from the elegant costumes Mrs. Langtry wore so well. Because there are so many locales in this play, the set must do double-duty, and appears less finished than the usual finely-tuned ones found at Theatre Suburbia. This work calls for a turntable set or a much larger stage, and a consistent high-style of acting, to give it a fighting chance to distract us from its inherent implausibilities and unmotivated behavior, and these are not available here.

The verdict:

A pastiche of a mystery has little suspense, but some engaging actors contrive to find the bright spots in a comedic drama that never quite takes off.

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily continues through March 22, Theatre Suburbia, 4106 Way Out West Drive. For information or ticketing, call 713-682-3525 or contact www.theatresuburbia.org.

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