Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily
Austin Playhouse's Sherlockian pastry may be light, but Jason Newman's Great Detective is seriously good
Reviewed by Wayne Alan Brenner, Fri., Dec. 5, 2014
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey LilyAustin Playhouse at Highland Mall, 6001 Airport
Through Dec. 21
Running time: 2 hr.
There's fan fiction and then there's fan fiction.
There are poorly wrought pastiches (of popular TV shows or literature, typically) that may or may not involve a homosexual version of what originally was the lead characters' heterosexual relationship – hello, Kirk/Spock; buenos dias, Starsky/Hutch – and there are similar pastiches that, regardless of creative genderizing or its lack, are actually pretty damned good, homagewise, although tending toward more of a confectionary existence than the source material.
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily, by Katie Forgette – a play that features not only that famous consulting detective and his second, Dr. Watson, but also legendary actress Lillie Langtry and author Oscar Wilde (!) – is, thankfully, in the latter category. And here Michael Stuart has directed the light dramedy for Austin Playhouse.
The first and most important thing to consider, IMHO, is: Who's playing Holmes? This is the crux of the matter. Because if Holmes fails, the whole show fails – no matter if it's written by Katie Forgette or Tom Stoppard or Caryl Churchill or whomever; no matter if it's simultaneously screened on a 3-D IMAX and accompanied by neck massages and Guinness/chocolate milkshakes. Luckily for theatregoers in this case, the famed cokehead of Baker Street is portrayed by Jason Newman – who gets it perfect. Truly: It's not that he's simply good enough for the material presented; his rendition of Holmes would fit in any serious work from the canon. Our old friend is scripted a skoshie sweeter here, of course; but still, Newman imbues the role with that distracted near-haughtiness that must obtain in one whose mental faculties never cease their toils of vigorous precision.
Among those performing in this clever and sometimes twee tale of thievery and blackmail and various connivings that involve the Duke of Windsor and some extraordinary jewels: J. Ben Wolfe as Dr. Watson, Andrea Osborn as Lillie Langtry, Samuel Knowlton as Oscar Wilde, Bernadette Nason as a wicked bit of business called Irma Tory, and Aaron Alexander as Holmes' notorious nemesis, Professor Moriarity. Know that these principals do a fine actorly job of playing their parts, coming across as believable as required by this mash-up of Arthur Conan Doyle's "A Scandal in Bohemia" and dear Oscar's own The Importance of Being Earnest, and that director Stuart plays up the theatricality of it all to match the tale's lightness of tone.
Verdict: If you like the whole Sherlock Holmes thing and enjoy historical literature and flights of whimsy, this show is something you'll find delightful – because it's well-produced by the Austin Playhouse company.
But, ah – as not Holmes but that other detective, Lieutenant Columbo, might say – there's just one more thing: the sword-dueling scene between (of course) Holmes and Moriarity? Newman and Alexander, as coached by Ben Wolfe, pull it off wonderfully, with much bravado and swift clashings of steel. You know how fake stage-fighting, especially with weapons, can seem, right? Slow and awkward and overly planned? If only briefly, this shit seemed real.