Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s deft blending of two Holmes tales artfully builds to climactic confrontation
By Lee Juillerat for Ashland.news
What’s the biggest mystery involving the famed sleuth Sherlock Holmes?
The answer is simple: Why aren’t more of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories about the devilishly deductive British detective made into plays? Especially if they’re adapted by Rick Robinson. His blending of two Holmes’ tales — “The Valley of Fear” and “The Final Problem” — is a delicious solution, a taut thriller peppered with laughs.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem,” playing at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre in Ashland through Nov. 6, is a mesmerizing production, with deft performances by five actors, including a trio who make frequent and often intentional comic character changes, along with mood-enhancing lighting and sound plus dazzling choreography.
“Sherlock” blends intrigue with humor in this fast-paced drama. It’s a play filled with well-timed pauses that allow audiences to understand the mental mechanics of Sherlock and his evil adversary, Professor James Moriarty.
In a sense there is no “star” performer. As Holmes, Nate Cheeseman personifies his always thinking, calculating detective. As he’s done in two previous Sherlock plays at the Cabaret, Galen Schloming is Dr. John Watson, Holmes’ unflinching, dedicated partner. Although he takes on various role-changing personas, Daniel Olson excels as he chillingly exudes evil and fear as the criminal mastermind Moriarty.
They’re not starring roles, but Mia Mekjian and Tony Carter are key performers. Both take on multiple roles, easily shifting personas and often providing comic relief with laugh-inducing physical comedy
The staging is often stunning. Sometimes it’s as simple as in the play’s opening scene, when dim lights show Moriarty’s menacing figure casting a foreboding shadow. Other times it’s dazzlingly designed and performed, as in a fight scene atop a moving train. The play’s choreography is frequently awe-inducing, as in a violent sword fight and the final, hold-your-breath confrontation between Holmes and Moriarty atop Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls.
“Holmes” shines because it is seamlessly detailed. Along with Robinson’s deft adaption of two Holmes’ stories and direction, the efforts and expertise of the production team create a smooth-flowing play. While many were involved, that team includes lighting designer Chris Wood, scene designer DeAnne Kennedy, assistant director Madeline Moeller, fight choreographer U. Jonathan Toppo, stage manager Rachel Nin and a dozen others.
In combining two Sherlock Holmes tales, Robinson explained, “given that this is the third time the Cabaret audience is going to see Sherlock, it felt like the right time to have him face off against his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. The stakes of ‘The Final Problem’ are just so much higher than his other stories — both personally and professionally for Holmes and Watson.” And for Moriarty.
As the play ends, Holmes and Moriarty battle for their lives atop 800-foot-high Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland. As Doyle’s story tells, “the personal contest between the two men ended … in their reeling over, locked in each other’s arms … and there, deep down in that dreadful cauldron of swirling water and seething foam, will lie for all time the most dangerous criminal and the foremost champion of the law of their generation.”
Does Holmes die? Is “Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem” the Cabaret’s final Holmes’ play? Let’s hope not. And here’s betting it isn’t.
Email freelance writer Lee Juillerat at firstname.lastname@example.org.