Constellation Stage & Screen is presenting “Holmes & Watson” on Thursday through Sunday every week Sept. 7 to 24 at the Waldron Auditorium.
The play takes place several years after Sherlock Holmes’ apparent death at the hands of his infamous rival, Professor Moriarty. Dr. John Watson is summoned to an asylum hosting three inmates, all of whom claim to be his former partner.
As Watson investigates the would-be Holmeses, a mystery begins to unfold on the eerie island asylum regarding Holmes’ fate and the inmates’ identities. As Holmes’ closest confidant and friend, Watson is the only one equipped to determine whether any of them are who they claim to be.
The Waldron Auditorium stage is arranged in the round, with audience members on three sides of the floor-level stage, the furthest of them no more than 50 feet from the players. The intimate setting is intricately designed, taking place mostly on the auditorium’s floor with a raised balcony area upstage.
Floating stone arches with hanging lanterns restrict the space’s height, adding a touch of claustrophobia. The set combines with the lighting design to create a range of moods from clear and visible to dark and oppressive.
Ronnie Johnstone’s Watson has a commanding presence despite the character’s classically meek nature, and his detailed physical acting communicates more than words can say. The three Holmeses play nicely off of Johnstone, displaying their derangement in a variety of precise and unexpected ways.
Considering the fame and ubiquity of Holmes’ mannerisms and trappings, the play has to work hard to avoid falling into stereotypes. It tackles this challenge with a tongue-in-cheek attitude, leaning into the opaque language and overblown caricature that define the classic fables without taking itself too seriously.
At a brisk 80 minutes, the show doesn’t linger on any one moment for longer than it needs to, keeping the audience entrapped in its web-like plot. Every time the show appears to tip its hand, further layers are discovered and peeled back.
To its credit, this makes the final act a whirlwind of excitement, but some minute details get left in the dust. However, all of the important plot beats are made abundantly clear; any elements that fly by in the tumult are of passing importance at most.
Once all the dominoes have fallen, though, the audience couldn’t help but be left in awe. The play’s final scenes slow considerably, basking in the astonishment following the turmoil and wrapping up the story.
Constellation Stage & Screen has put on a show with Jeffery Hatcher’s “Holmes & Watson,” stacking the cards with meticulous care in their production and acting, only to guide the audience through its prestige where they come tumbling gleefully down. Those believing Holmes’ stories to be played out ought to give this rendition a fair shake.