Houston's Latest Sherlock Holmes, On Being Buff And Avoiding Cliche

This year's ExxonMobil Summer Chills production at the Alley Theatre  will be Sherlock Holmes and the Crucifer of Blood, allowing company actor Todd Waite to once again play the master detective in all his dressing-gowned splendor.

The show runs Wednesday, July 15 through Sunday, August 16 on the Hubbard Stage. The plot offers two murders, treasure and a blood oath, all played out in the London of 1887 with the usual heavy dose of fog.

Hair Balls exchanged e-mails with Waite who fit in the Q&A session around his rehearsal time. Here's the result:

HB: You played Sherlock Holmes at the Alley in 2003 in a play that drew most of its story from "A Scandal in Bohemia" with some of "The Final Problem." Is "The Crucifer of Blood" based on any well-known Conan Doyle stories?

Waite: It is a very loose adaptation of Conan Doyle's "The Sign of Four," which was the second Sherlock Holmes adventure, but much of the play is new, invented by Paul Giovanni

HB: Who was the best Sherlock you've seen in the movies/TV/onstage?

Waite: Jeremy Brett was great because his sense of playfulness and irony, but "best" is not how I'd phrase it. I enjoyed something in all of them.

HB: Okay, the obvious one, ­ how does it feel to play Sherlock Holmes again? Besides being tall and lanky and most people¹s idea of what Holmes would have looked like, why are you a good fit for this part?

Waite: Being of English heritage, that part of it comes easily, I suppose. But any good actor could play it well... so the "look" is really the main thing that predisposes me to being cast as Holmes.

HB: How difficult is it to play a character who's a cliche in a lot of peoples' minds (i.e., they know the hat and pipe and "Elementary, my dear Watson"?

Waite: There is no difficulty. "To be or not to be" could be called a cliché if it were delivered without intention and meaning. As an actor you just have to mean what you say, and have a strong need to say it. There is a fine line between "cliché" and "a delightful fulfillment of expectations." One can willfully avoid the expected to the point of affectation. There are some surprises in this summer's productions. By the way, interestingly, "Elementary, my dear Watson," does not appear in Conan Doyle's books, just some later films.

HB: Do you think you get a different audience with the Summer Chills series, maybe one a little more hesitant to attend the theater normally?

Rodi L. Franco
, director of marketing and communications for the Alley, answered this question: The Alley has the definitive answer because we did research last year to learn more about our audience. While Chills is a great vehicle to bring new audiences into our theatre, the overlap between Chills and regular season-ticket buyers is extremely high -- much more so than the overlap with holiday shows. We hope people are attracted to the summer plays because they are always fun mysteries and the tickets are priced lower compared to regular season productions. And of course, it's a cool thing for families to do during the summer!

HB: You're an out gay guy...Sherlock Holmes was never married, Watson was a widower -- any sexual tension there?

Hmmm....In the last Sherlock Holmes I had a female love interest, in this one, Watson does...and in this version I say, "I am a brain Watson, the rest of me is mere appendix." Deduce!

HB: Robert Downey Jr. is playing Holmes in an upcoming movie as a buff, cut action star...Have you been working out, and plan to take your shirt off, in order to keep up?

Waite: This script is not written for that to be appropriate.... However, I hear Downey made that choice after seeing me in tights as Crumpet in Santaland Diaries!!! But, seriously, I have always worked out five times a week, 1 ½ hrs... Just not for Holmes.

HB: If you read a mystery, are you the kind of person who can figure out who done it? Growing up, did you ever want to be a detective?

Well, truthfully, no! I was often surprised... I would get caught up in the writing and the story... I actually didn't care "who did it" as much as I cared about the characters. And so, I guess, no... I never wanted to be one... but it's a lot of fun now!

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