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Desert Companion

Theater: Finding a Good Holmes

Vegas Theatre Company plumbs the identity and mythology of the world’s greatest detective

“The setup is fantastic,” says Andrew Paul, director of Vegas Theatre Company’s production of Holmes & Watson. It’s been three years since Sherlock Holmes and his nemesis, Professor Moriarity, tumbled from Reichenbach Falls, locked in mortal combat, their bodies never recovered. Since then, Watson has regularly had to debunk the claims of men claiming to be Holmes. Now comes a strange summons: At a remote Scottish asylum, three inmates all say they’re the famous detective. Can Watson come take a look? “That’s the setup,” Paul says. “It’s already pretty titillating, right?”

Well, you’re thinking , what’s the problem? Just pick the one who looks most like Benedict Cumberbatch. The one whose head fits the famous deerstalker cap. You do know what Sherlock looks like, right, Dr. Watson?

But in the hands of playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, nothing is so elementary. An Arthur Conan Doyle fanatic — he’s written other plays about the detective, as well as the script for the film Mr. Holmes — Hatcher is intent on playing not only with the Holmes mythology, but with your perceptions of the character, many based more on pop-culture interpretations than Doyle’s source material (for example, Holmes doesn’t wear a deerstalker in the books; a stage actor created that detail).

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Thus, Paul says, as Watson jousts with the sanitarium’s mysterious boss and ponders the three very different would-be Holmeses (one who resembles the one we think we know, another who appears to have been homeless, the third deaf and blind), the central question posed by the play is really this: How should Holmes and Watson be perceived? Must Holmes look like Benedict Cumberbatch or Basil Rathbone? Perhaps … not? “All three lunatics should be plausible as some variation on Holmes’ personality,” Paul says. “So it’s tricky for the audience to figure out which one is actually him.”

But make no mistake: To whatever degree this is an inquiry into the mysteries of identity and how well we know — or think we know — others, it’s sleeved in a fast-paced, precisely timed, hairpin-turning, expectation-thwarting action-comedy. “It’s a straight thriller,” he says. “It’s also extraordinarily funny, and it becomes funny in ways you least expect it to. If you’re paying attention, there are payoffs for things you weren’t expecting. The key is not allowing the audience to have the time to breathe and think about it. You want it all to be happening so quickly in front of them that they’re not able to piece it together until it’s over.”

Holmes & Watson, by Jeffrey Hatcher, presented by Vegas Theatre Company, November 13-December 8, Art Square Theatre, $25, theatre.vegas

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