Sunday, December 03, 2017

“The game’s afoot” as “The Baker Street Irregulars” snoop @ Dobama

In October of 1978 Will Eisner published “A Contract with God and Other Tenement Stories.”  The fictional tale ushered in a new venue, the graphic novel, using the drawing media to tell tales. 

In contrast to most “comics,” (e.g., “Peanuts,” “Mary Worth,” and “Little Orphan Annie”), which tend to be serialized, graphic novels are self-contained stories.

Tony Lee and Dan Boultwood wrote a quartet of these novels, aimed mainly at the tween audience, which are spin-offs on Sherlock Holmes stories centering on The Baker Street Irregulars, a bunch of street urchins led by teenaged Wiggins, whom Holmes paid to collect data for his investigations.

In the Lee and Boultwood series, “The Adventure of the Missing Detective,” “The Adventure of the Phantom of Drury Lane,” “The Adventure of the Charge of the Old Brigade” and “The Adventure of the Family Reunion,” Wiggins is joined by “Pockets” a female pickpocket, “Ash” an apprentice chimney sweep,” “Chen,” a boy-wonder Chinatown inventor, “Tiny” a plus-sized butcher’s assistant, and “Eliza,” the granddaughter of a famous London sleuth.

Cleveland Heights’ national award winning playwright, Eric Coble’s adaptation of “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars,” is a melodramatic, tween-centric “who done it” play with villains, cops, mistaken identities, subterfuge, heroic acts, dangerous situations, budding love stories and twists and turns.

Though the script has been produced by other theatres, Dobama’s staging is actually a “kind of” world premiere, as Coble sat in while the action evolved, making adaptations to the original work.

The tale?  It is December,1891, shortly after the “disappearance/death” of Sherlock Holmes, following a battle with Moriarty, his arch-nemesis.  The street urchins take up the challenge of defending the Victorian city against crimes.

They are aided by Inspector Lestrade, who questions the youths’ ability to solve crimes, the mysterious Irene Adler and the steadfast Doctor John Watson.

Director Nathan Motta keeps the action generally lively, has worked with his actors to let loose of reality and play the scenes with stylized acting, though a more comic book approach might have added some more audience involvement.  He also has planned with his technical staff to create visually interesting effects.  Though there is a somewhat excessive use of projections, sometimes causing an almost roller-coaster queasiness, the visuals generally work.

Christopher Bohan, gives yet another strong performance, following up his starring roles in Dobama’s “How to Be a Respectable Junkie” and “The Flick,” in his dual performance as Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes.  Ray Caspio is evil incarnate as both Morris Wiggins and Moriarty.  Ananias J. Dixon properly overplays as Inspector Lestrade.  Laura Starnik makes Mayhew live. Neda Spears is fine as Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ landlady.

Tenth-grader Colin Frothingham, with a ton of stage experience in his background, excels as Wiggins.  This is a young man who has a promising future as a Thespian.

Elise Pakiela delights as Pockets.

Fortunately, Motta unearthed some performers who are young looking, while being adults.  Miranda Leeann (Eliza Mayhew) and David Gretchko (Tiny) are on target in their portrayals.
Undertaking a script such as “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars” by a professional theatre like Dobama has its challenges.  The show is child-actor dominant.  In contrast to community theatres, where parents and grandparents can imagine that their little ones as “better than Broadway,” equity theatres don’ t have the latitude of praising those who are young and cute, but not of professional quality. 

In the case of “Irregulars,” one younger cast members tended to stay in character when speaking lines, but when not emoting, eyes wandered the audience and there was a lack of reaction to the lines of others. Another is adorable, and gets laughs, but a high-pitched voice and rapid speech makes lines almost unintelligible.  Hopefully, as the show progresses, Motta will spend some time aiding these fledglings.

Coble’s script is ideal for community theatres, and should get lots of stagings.  The story can be of interest and has roles that are in the amateur theatre wheel house.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: “Sherlock Holmes:  The Baker Street Irregulars” gets a good staging at Dobama that will be of interest for parents and grandparents looking for a theatrical experience for their tweens and younger teens during this season.  It is a nice option for the much-done holidays shows that are staged again and again.  It is not great theater, but it could make for an entertaining evening of entertainment.

Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars” runs December 1 through December 30 at Dobama Theatre.  Call 216-932-3396 or for tickets.

Next up at Dobama: “Grounded” by George Brant, another Cleveland award-winning playwright from January 19-February 11, 2018.