Sunday, September 14, 2014

theatre review SHERLOCK HOLMES: THE FINAL ADVENTURE, Grand Canyon University, September 7

To read my review of Grand Canyon University's Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, just click on this link.

Sherlock Holmes is once again a hot commodity. With the recent Emmy winning BBC series "Sherlock," the hit US TV series "Elementary," and the two recent big screen movies that featured Robert Downey, Jr. as Holmes, the characters that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first introduced in 1887 are still going strong today. Grand Canyon University just finished their run of Steven Dietz's entertaining play Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure in a production that was top notch, with superb direction, impressive creative elements, and a terrific cast led by Aaron Potter and Dylan Kim, who were both excellent as Holmes and his partner in crime, Dr. Watson.

The plot features two of Holmes' arch rivals, the evil Professor Moriarty and the seductive Irene Adler. Toward the end of his career, Holmes is approached by the King of Bohemia about a case that it too tempting for Holmes to pass up. It seems the King is being blackmailed by Adler, so Holmes and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson pursue the case that leads them straight into the lair of Moriarty. With plenty of twists and turns, "The game is afoot" indeed.

Dietz's 2006 play is based on the 1899 play by William Gillette and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, and was the winner of the 2007 Edgar Award for Best Mystery Play. More comical and upbeat and less dark and brooding than some other Holmes adaptations, it serves the characters and familiar plots of Conan Doyle's tales well and results in an overall fun, suspenseful and entertaining theatrical endeavor.

Director Claude Pensis assembled an absolutely winning cast, able to provide plenty of comedy along with a nice sense of drama in the more suspenseful moments. With perfect diction, rapid-fire delivery of Holmes' intricate dialogue, and a completely appropriate air of self-confidence, Aaron Potter was superb as the famous sleuth. He also mastered with ease several accents for the various characters Holmes impersonates in the play. His humorous delivery combined with Holmes' assured intensity created a performance that was on par with performances of many professional actors in the Phoenix area. As Watson, Dylan Kim's comical facial expressions provided a perfect sense of humor for the many moments when he is continually befuddled by Holmes. Kim also spoke with a perfectly crisp, clear British accent and, in serving as the narrator of the story, exhibited a confident connection with the audience. Potter and Kim also achieved the keen sense of Holmes and Watson's years long friendship, not to mention the intense amount of trust the two men have, which is a difficult feat, considering how young both Potter and Kim are.

Moriarty's subtle intensity was expertly managed by Joshua Vanderpoel, and Megan Sprink-VanCamp provided plenty of layers for Irena, from the scheming and cunning vixen to the confused, concerned and used woman. She also exhibited an appropriate amount of charm for the three suitors she encountered throughout the play—her moments with Potter, which approached the edge of romance, especially effective. Javier Gonzalez made a winning King of Bohemia, with a humorous thick accent, and Kit Boyett and Claire Flatz were appropriately low-life and thuggish as a scheming brother and sister, with Flatz's dramatic facial expressions a nice touch. Klay Wanderlear added some fine humorous moments as a comical safecracker.

Pensis' direction allowed the humor to shine amid the intrigue and kept the plot humming along at breakneck speed, something not easily done with the vast amount of intricate dialogue. The director's ability to get such excellent, rich and layered performances from all of his young actors is worth mentioning. The entire cast not only kept their foreign accents consistent throughout (dialect coach Michael Kary should be commended), but all were assured in their delivery and able to effectively navigate the comedy and drama in the play.

Creative elements were quite effective. Scenic designer William Symington's two-tiered set, comprised of rich dark colors, included a rotating set piece for Holmes' study and the various rooms for the other scenes, and a painted London skyline. I just wish the second level walkway that appeared to have a detailed iron railing was used more often. Costume designer Nola Yergen provided impeccable suits and coats for the men as well as a sumptuous, layered dress for Irena in act two. Kay Gray's hair and make-up designs were period perfect and Pensis' lighting designs used shadows to instill the appropriate sense of mystery and intrigue.

With gifted direction, impressive production elements, and a cast that never made a single misstep, Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure was yet another winning production for GCU.

Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure played at Grand Canyon University's Ethington Theatre from August 29th to September 7th, 2014. The theatre is located at 3300 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix and ticket and performance information for upcoming shows can be found at or by calling (602) 639-8880.

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