The world’s greatest detective meets the author of Alice of Wonderland in Gus Krieger’s Sherlock Through The Looking Glass, the latest from The Porters Of Hellsgate, and if Krieger’s play could stand some trimming, tightening, and clarifying, topnotch performances and exciting staging combine to further solidify the Porters’ reputation as one of L.A.’s most exciting young acting troupes.

552712_10151611630348806_842065120_n Since no private eye story could begin without a visit from a mysterious beauty, Sherlock Through The Looking Glass quickly introduces our hero (Kevin Stidham) and his faithful sidekick Dr. Watson (Timothy Portnoy) to the beautiful, mysterious Lillian Childress (Jennifer Bronstein), a damsel whose sister Josephine (Dana DeRuyck) is indeed in distress.

Only the previous day, Lillian had purchased Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland and its sequel Through The Looking-Glass from a local street vendor as a gift for Josephine, who had cherished the two volumes as a child.

Unfortunately, however, the reading of only a few of those beloved pages has sent Josephine into a bizarre, frightening, inexplicable trance, one interrupted only by babbled, disjointed sentences straight out of the Alice In Wonderland tomes.

Could it be that the mere reading of Carroll’s prose has had this calamitous effect on Josephine’s sanity?

Naturally, Holmes cannot resist taking on The Case Of The Babbling Sister, and soon enough a visit to Scotland Yard reveals the ongoing investigation of a pair of similar cases whose perpetrator appears to be a criminal mastermind known only as The Jabberwock.

1150334_10151611629968806_1157730243_n With multiple clues pointing in the direction of Alice In Wonderland’s creator himself, Holmes calls on Charles Dodgson (aka Lewis Carroll), only to have the visit interrupted by police officers come to arrest Dogson/Carroll (Bert Emmett) on suspicion of having committed these monstrous crimes.

Not surprisingly, Holmes decides to do some further investigating on his own.

226714_10151611630463806_1443617428_n If all this appears rather straightforward in synopsis, Sherlock Through The Looking Glass’s overly talky first half could well send these basic plot points whooshing over heads, particularly since only audience members extremely versed on Carroll’s works (as, thankfully, my guest just happened to be) may recognize when characters begin speaking lines directly out of one Alice volume or another.

In fact, since much of Sherlock Through The Looking Glass’s lengthy first act serves as a prelude to Holmes’ thrillingly staged Act Two descent into Wonderland, judicious cuts combined with a conscious effort not to lose the audience midway through would make Krieger’s play even stronger.

Regardless, Krieger proves an excellent writer, and his direction is mostly spot-on, though more attention could be paid to insuring that line delivery is paced so as to better clarify plot twists and turns. Sherlock Through The Looking Glass’s Act Two dream sequence is a particularly exciting bit of staging, as real-life characters take on such well-known fictional identities as the Red and White Queens, the Cheshire Cat, the Mad Hatter, Humpty Dumpty, and Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

557069_10151611630658806_1613567712_n Performance-wise, the Porters’ latest is quite possibly their best yet, with Portnoy, Bronstein, and DeRuyck, along with Robert Beddall, Michael Bigley, Louise Gassman, Andrew Graves, Michael Hoag, Dylan Vigus, and Sean Faye as the ubiquitous Inspector Lestrade all doing thoroughly topnotch work.

With her gorgeous vocals, Ulka Mohanty is a particular standout, as is Emmett’s Dogson/Carroll, who gets to deliver a grippingly performed monolog from behind bars.

Best of all among supporting players is a sensational Amelia Gotham, who appears seemingly out of nowhere to stunning effect as Sherlock Through The Looking Glass approaches its dramatic (if overly drawn-out) climactic scenes.

993370_10151611630588806_1391310737_n Still, no Sherlock Holmes film or play could succeed without a Grade-A Sherlock, and in Best Actor Scenie winner Stidham, Krieger and the Porters have found their ideal lead, no 50plusser a la Jeremy Brett, Peter Cushing, or Basil Rathbone, but a young, vital, charismatic Holmes any damsel in distress might easily fall for. Stidham delivers his gazillion or so lines without missing a beat, and never more so than when inferring something “elementary” in the step-by-step logic that has become the super sleuth’s trademark. Stidham has been excellent before. This time the native Englishman surpasses himself in a role that could easily turn into a Stidham franchise.

Audiences expecting a scenic design will be disappointed by Sherlock Through The Looking Glass’s nearly bare-stage, black-box staging, though Krieger and company make very good use of the Whitmore-Lindley Theatre’s built-in stairway and upstairs landing.

Fortunately there is Sterling Hall’s vivid lighting, Nick Neidorf’s mood-setting sound design, and above all Jessica Pasternack’s as-always splendid period costumes to help make up for the production’s lack of a set. (Still, it’s fascinating to imagine what this production might look like if budget could have permitted a professional scenic designer to work his or her magic.)

Special kudos go out to choreographer/movement coach Gassman’s contributions to Act Two’s Wonderland sequence, and the designer of the play’s frequent (and realistic-looking) fight choreography deserves snaps as well. Matt Calloway is stage manager.

Sherlock Through The Looking Glass makes for a refreshing departure from the Porters’ usual Shakespearean fare (they’ve staged seventeen of the Bard’s plays so far in their seven seasons), yet one that complements their accustomed canon. With some judicious rewrites to insure that even those unfamiliar with Carroll’s texts will be able to follow what’s going on onstage, Sherlock Through The Looking Glass could well have a life beyond its Porters Of Hellsgate premiere. As is, this Adventure Through The Looking Glass offers considerable rewards to Holmes aficionados with a taste for the unusual.

Whitmore-Lindley Theatre Center, 11006 Magnolia Blvd., North Hollywood.

–Steven Stanley
August 31, 2013

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