By John Lyle Belden
Would you recognize Sherlock Holmes if you saw him? That question is at the heart of “Holmes and Watson,” a mystery by Jeffrey Hatcher opening the 2018-19 season at Indiana Repertory Theatre.
The play is set on a remote Scottish island, several years after Holmes is believed to have died, gone over a Swiss mountain waterfall with his archrival Moriarty. (Tired of the character, author Arthur Conan Doyle offed the detective in “The Final Problem.” Bowing to public pressure, he brought Holmes back to life 10 years later.) Dr. Watson (played by Torrey Hanson) has been debunking the many impostors claiming to be the miraculously surviving Sherlock Holmes. Now, in an old fortress and lighthouse converted to an asylum, he is confronted with three.
The facility’s head, Dr. Evans (Henry Woronicz) presents a trio of distinctly different men (Michael Brusasco, Nathan Hosner and Rob Johansen), all claiming to be the detective. Having otherwise only seen an orderly (Ryan Artzberger) and the Matron (Jennifer Johansen) in the building, Watson surmises the three men are the only inmates. The mystery deepens as we discover that there has been a murder prior to Watson’s arrival, and a mysterious woman at large.
I dare not say more, so you can unravel this for yourself at the show. We tend to think of Sherlock Holmes as a singular character, but we are presented by three different but familiar archetypes: the classic Holmes of old films, the adventurous Sherlock of Benedict Cumberbatch, and the odd iconoclast reminiscent of Jonny Lee Miller in “Elementary.” We also noticed a clue – never noted by anyone on stage – that could be an insight into what’s really going on.
These amazing actors all put in excellent work. I don’t want to give individual praise for fear of giving away a secret, but suffice to say all are perfectly suited to characters where any of them may not be whom they seem.
The play is directed by former IRT artistic director Risa Brainin, who is familiar with Hatcher’s works, as well as the man himself. Robert Mark Morgan’s brilliant stage design contains sweeping layered curves, suggesting an aperture or the eye’s iris, opening and closing as the focus of the inquiry shifts.
Though not by Doyle, this drama fits right in the world he wrote for Holmes, with a tantalizing mystery worthy of the canon, complete with plot twists you’d see on an episode of “Masterpiece.”
“Holmes and Watson” runs through October 21 at the IRT, 140 W. Washington St., downtown Indianapolis. Call 317-635-5252 or visit http://www.irtlive.com.