Tuesday, December 09, 2008

The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes

Photo/Jim Baldassare

There’s a deep canon of literature on Sherlock Holmes, practically as much about his rigid study of signs and phenomenology as there is about Jacques Derrida, Doyle’s deconstructionist antithesis. Given that, Brad Krumholz’s play, The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes, should feel most welcome, for it slams these dualities together, but the nihilism comes across in the staging and the logic comes across in the plot, and both are more confusing than satisfying.

The reason for this is elementary: Holmes’s famous method is that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains—however improbable—must be the answer. But while the boundaries of a short story (which this began as) may have allowed Krumholz to frame his scene, adapting it for the stage has made it all but impossible to eliminate anything. In fact, NACL (North American Cultural Laboratory) embraces everything, from the amorphous casting of Tannis Kowalchuk as Dr. John Watson (who switches sexes frequently) to the physical contortions of actors-as-sets and, as is the norm for the avant-garde these days, a fourth-wall-breaking band. (“You can’t kill me!” cries out one character. “I’m the bass player! We’ve got to play another song.”)

For a while, the plot serves as a solid foundation, with Holmes (a haunted, lithe Brett Keyser) racing Jacqueline Derrida (Sarah Dey Hirshan) to find Dr. Jeremy Nietzsche’s murderer. There are also some happy distractions in the form of Liz Eckert’s comic timing in a variety of roles. But though Kevin Freud bites the dust, the sight-gags and gawky symbolism don’t let up, and the reedy rock lyrics, hard to make out over the music, interrupt the plot more than advance it. At the start of the show, Watson asks if we’ve ever found that a “person you thought you knew was, in fact, only just an aspect, the outer manifestation of a deep, inner complexity?” Sadly, The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes never manifests more than the silly outer aspect.

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