Review: Naples Players offer stylish update on 'Sherlock Holmes'

'Sherlock Holmes' will run Nov. 23 - Dec. 17. Tickets are $35, call 239-263-7990 or online at naplesplayers.org. Photo courtesy The Naples Players

"Sherlock Holmes" will run Nov. 23 - Dec. 17. Tickets are $35, call 239-263-7990 or online at naplesplayers.org. Photo courtesy The Naples Players

Sherlock Holmes and the mystery of the missing drama Nancy Stetson for Florida Weekly

‘Sherlock Holmes’ lacking that extra something Bill O'Neill for the Collier Citizen

Video from YouTube
Video from YouTube

What: Holmes and Watson dash through London on a blackmail case

When: 8 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday, 2 p.m. Sundays through Dec. 16

Where: 701 5th Avenue South, Naples

Cost: $35

Information: (239) 263-7990, naplesplayers.com

Something else: The downtown parking garage fills up quickly during season. Plan to arrive early or be prepared to hunt for on-the-street parking.

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The Naples Players wrap Victorian London in a mysterious cloak of high-stakes melodrama during "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure." What emerges from the folds is a gorgeous, if uneven, vision of literature's greatest detective. Audiences will find much to like, but they may have to sleuth for it.

"Final Adventure" finds Holmes and Watson puzzling through a blackmail case involving the King of Bohemia. Steven Dietz (his name is misspelled in the program) adapted the work from a 1899 play by William Gillette and Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle. The show mixes elements of original tales ""A Scandal in Bohemia" and "The Final Problem."

A dense script captures the feel of Doyle's novellas. Fans will smile knowingly at the way Holmes discerns tiny mysteries about Watson's appearance or unravels the king's identity.

That vision translates far less well to the stage; chunks of dialogue that allow readers to embroider a scene inside their heads feels like dead air inside the theater, no matter how expert the delivery. While there's an abundance of action - the mountains of exposition give the show a lumbering feel.

To counter that, director Dallas Dunnagan creates an entire world for the actors to inhabit - and for the audience to enjoy. This isn't just a play, it is a slice of Victoria Regina's London brought to life, right down to the lanterns bobbing on the walls, villains in the shadows and the swish of fabric in exquisite costumes as actors flit across the stage.

I love the ambience Dunnagan and her talented crew yank into being, but the show itself ends up hollow. The actors seem to have little understanding in how their characters relate to each other and what's left is a succession of attractive and enjoyable - but somewhat empty - pictures moving across the stage.

The show resembles something of an overwrought, lavish Masterpiece Theatre melodrama. Everything here explodes over the top - sets, costumes, accents - sometimes even the acting. This is Dunnagan's signature style - and when it works, as in "Cabaret," "A Christmas Carol" and "The Secret Garden" - it is often spectacular. "Sherlock" is a bauble-bedecked adventure - but it feels like some crucial clue is missing.

Mark Vanagas sinks completely into the role of intuitive genius Holmes. Whether rustling into disguise as a kindly priest or whipping through a series of deductions, he makes you believe he's the world's greatest detective. Better, his hummingbird energy livens the cavernous stage and there's the hint of mystery that recalls Conan Doyle's hero.

Vic Caroli's Doctor Watson struggles under the weight of a pile of words. He does have good chemistry with Vanagas (their banter is one of the high points) and captures the good doctor's stolid nature and companionable essence. I wish there were more of Watson's sense of wonder and amazement from him though.

In Dunnagan's vision, the villains and supporting characters are sidelined to mere caricatures. Almost all subtlety gets lost, even Jim Heffernan's evil Moriarty ("the Napoleon of crime"), reduced to a huge overcoat and a vicious accent. Laura Lorusso's Irene Adler - Holmes' mental and romantic match - is just another damsel in distress (albeit a fashionably clad one).

Much of the night's moody atmosphere comes from Todd Potter's magnificent two-story set that towers over the stage and decorated with the trappings of 1890s London. Think an empty warehouse on a stormy night, with lightnings flashing in through the second-story windows. The set - with various chairs, boxes and tables - triples for 221B Baker Street, a home in London and an abandoned factory. Pictures, hangings, fixtures and decoration cover every surface. The ensemble - dressed as London bobbies - moves furniture during scene changes (a nice touch). Jeff Weiss created the superb lighting designs and original music for the show.

Dot Auchmoody's gorgeous costumes resemble something from a period couture house. Paul Graffy's regal outfits for his King of Bohemia are stunning - down to white surcoats and emerald-lined capes. A display board in the lobby details the labor volunteer seamstress Louise Eliot put into building Holmes' famous (and fabulous) coat - itself a work of art.

Audiences will adore the lush, operatic style - or be utterly baffled by it. The stunning set and breathtaking costumes offer a platform into a high-gloss vision of Victorian London. Once there, appreciate the wit and verve of Mark Vanagas and a cracking, old-fashioned detective story.

FULL DISCLOSURE: Naples Daily News staff member Jay Schlichter is a cast member of "Sherlock Holmes: the Final Adventure."

It was the maid, in the scullery, with a candlestick. Email me, csilk@naplesnews.com, find me on Twitter at @napleschris or read my Stage Door theater blog. You can also sign up to receive the Stage Door blog via email.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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