The world’s most famous detective takes center stage in Charles Marowitz’s Sherlock’s Last Case, a delightful, clever cross between spoof and homage now playing at Hollywood’s Actors Co-op Theatre. Under Jeremy Lewit’s oh-so ingenious direction, this comic tribute to Baker Street’s sleuth extraordinaire is a winner from its imaginative opening to its deliciously satisfying finale.

It seemed to take a while for Saturday’s audience to realize that Sherlock’s Last Case is a comedy, so be advised in advance, it’s all right to laugh when Holmes (Stephen Van Dorn) explains to ever-faithful Dr. Watson (Steve Gustafson) exactly how he was able to deduce that a certain Guy Heatherington and Madame Neander are “one and the same person.” In response to Watson’s comment that the women at the soiree they have just attended were all “preening themselves like jackdaws, as they always do,” Holmes corrects his unobservant friend. “All but one,” Holmes points out. All but Madame Neander.  “It was a pitiful boner on Heatherington’s part,” explains the supersleuth. “What woman who truly was a woman, would miss a chance of admiring herself in the glass? That, I fear was the fatal giveaway.” Hardly politically correct, but well worth a chuckle, and the laughs have only just begun.

Holmes’ well-organized life is in for a shakeup when housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (Brenda Ballard) announces in sobs her desire to take time off from work to travel to Dundee to visit her ailing grandfather, a man she hasn’t heard a peep from in twenty years.  “It’s confusin’ to have to morn someone you never even knew was alive,” she explains to her employer, who advises her to be philosophic. “If your grandfather IS going to die, your bedside-lamentations will only provide irrelevant musical accompaniment.”

Pay attention to Mrs. Hudson’s absence.  It’s a clue, but the only one which will be revealed here.

Holmes soon receives a cryptic hand-delivered letter, a warning from Simeon Moriarty, son of Holmes’ recently deceased arch-enemy Dr. Moriarty.  “Balderdash,” exclaims Holmes upon reading it, then goes on to quote from the letter. “Hornet’s sting … cut his wing … Rubbish! And yet crystal clear in intent. It means, dear Watson, that within a very short period of time, only days perhaps, there is every likelihood that I shall be murdered.”

Not long after, the sleuth is paid a visit by Simeon’s sister Liza (Teresa Bisson), who offers to lead him to her brother in hopes of reasoning with the disturbed young man.   Holmes lets himself be persuaded, as much by her beauty as by her logic, and she impulsively kisses him, only to be warned by the detective that “emotional effusions of that sort are the dry-rot that weakens the timber of masculine resolve.”

Yes, indeed, it is all right to laugh during Sherlock’s Last Case. The only one who should not be laughing is the great Holmes himself, for he will very soon find himself facing imminent death at the hands of …

Just as was the case with the recently reviewed Deathtrap, there is a point beyond which any further synopsizing of Sherlock’s Last Case would be criminal, and that point has now been reached. Suffice it to say that the laughs, the surprises, and the suspense have only just begun.

Co-op favorite Van Dorn does absolutely sensational work as a younger, handsomer Holmes than we’ve been accustomed to.  (He complains that a newspaper write-up has him in his forties when he’s not a day over thirty-eight—if that.) Van Dorn is totally on top of Horowitz’s fast-paced verbal patter, never going for laughs, but instead throwing lines away the better to provoke mirth. It’s a new kind of Holmes, but one we buy immediately as the real thing.

Every Sherlock must have his bumbling Dr. Watson, and Gustafson provides Van Dorn with a great comic foil—and more, thanks to Horowitz’s sly tweaking of the role. Conan Doyle regular Inspector Lestrade is played by the always marvelous Don Robb, proving that like fine wine, fine actors grow better with age.   Bissom makes for an absolutely lovely Liza Moriarty, not a trace of 21st Century America in her vedy Victorian young Englishwoman. Ballard is delectably dotty as the grief stricken Mrs. Hudson.  

Not to give too much away, director Lewit has cast real actors Michael Tauzin and Marcos Esteves as Damion and as the Sherlock Holmes Look-Alike, and both do memorable work, not only in these cameo roles but also as half of the quartet of Baker Street Irregulars (Bissom and James Ledesma completing the foursome), who execute some of the most brilliantly conceived set/scene changes I’ve ever seen.

Scenic designer Tim Farmer has created a nicely appointed Victorian Baker Street flat which the Irregulars transform into … well, into a totally different set.  (I’m sworn to secrecy as to just what place this set represents.) Sound designer Cricket S. Myers’ background music provides just the right blend of the whimsical and the suspenseful, with some great dank dripping water as backdrop to … well, to several of the scenes. James L. Moody’s lighting is … well, appropriately moody. Kimberly Overton’s Victorian costumes couldn’t be better.

Since Van Dorn is an accomplished singer as well as actor, perhaps the Co-op could consider a scaled-down production of the 1965 Tony-winning Broadway Sherlock Holmes musical Baker Street for an upcoming season. In the meantime, Sherlock’s Last Case provides the actor with one of his best roles ever, and the audience with thrills and laughs in equal measure. It’s a rollicking good time—and not just for fans of the World’s Greatest Detective.

Actors Co-Op Crossley Terrace Theatre, 1769 N. Gower St., Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
October 31, 2009
                                                                           Photos: Lindsay Schnebly

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