Review: A Sherlock Holmes Christmas by The Archive Theater Company
by Michael Meigs
Not to bah, humbug! about it, but December is a difficult month for theatre reviewers. And December—okay, the Christmas season—starts in mid-November. With a sigh, I tot it up once again this year: stages across the CTXLT region are putting up thirty-eight holiday plays this holiday season. THIRTY-EIGHT! Including eight versions of A Christmas Carol. EIGHT!
Oh, for some variation! A cracking good mystery, for example. Though preferably not Ken Ludwig's The Game's Afoot, or Holmes for the Holidays, opening the first weekend in December both at the Navasota Theatre Alliance and Brenham's Unity Theatre.
The inventive Jennifer Rose Davis solved the problem for this reviewer by staging Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle. Granted, there's a Christmas tag in the title and it's set in December; but there's precious little sentimentality to A Sherlock Holmes Christmas.
Dr. Watson, the narrator, encounters Holmes meditating upon a battered hat lost in the streets of London along with a goose, quite dead, evidently meant for the holiday feast. We're treated to Holmes's wizardry of deduction about the man who lost both items, and then Police Commissioner Peterson, who had custody of both, appears, clutching an enormous precious stone. The good policeman had taken the abandoned goose home for his own family dinner, only to discover the famous blue carbuncle recently stolen from the Countess of Morcar.
Hats off to the good commissioner, happy to consume a homeless but perfectly good goose but honest enough to turn over that gem of enormous value to Sherlock Holmes for safekeeping!
Pioneer Farms provides a large open room in which Archive Theatre sets Holmes's 221-B Baker Street sitting room on stage left and a neutral area on stage right. Amado Dehoyos as Dr. Watson is the narrator, just as in Conan Doyle's short story. Director Lynn Beaver brings him to neutral center stage to address the audience directly, as Holmes, clad in a dressing gown, lounges on a settee in his apartment. As the story proceeds, other cast members, except for Chris Humphrey as landlady Mrs. Hudson, drop in and out of the supporting roles.
Always intrigued by an intellectual challenge, Holmes works backwards from the ingested carbuncle to establish the odd chain of events that brought it into his hands. Along the way he deals with a publican, a sour-tempered poultry merchant in Covent Garden, a London woman who raises geese, a distraught young man, the countess's maid, and, of course, the commissioner. Sherlock is inexorable and ever perceptive; at the end, having solved the puzzle, he faces a moral dilemma. That's the single point at which the Christmas spirit peeks into the narrative. Having made his decision, the great detective declares, "It is the season of forgiveness. Chance has put in our way a most singular and whimsical problem, and its solution is its own reward."
Damon Brown is a fine Sherlock Holmes—crisp, dismissive, and decisive, though at times lost in ratiocination. He's quite courteous, especially with his friend Watson, and satisfied when he can lure information from a recalcitrant witness. His quarters are furnished sparsely but convincingly; the company found furniture to fit the setting and manufactured a fireplace and fire to match it (I did have fun watching some of the set construction via Facebook). Chris Humphreys as the proper Mrs. Hudson has some choice subtle bits of stage business that establish her quite proper attitude and her concern at Sherlock's somewhat Bohemian lifestyle. Robert Stevens appears both as the man who lost the hat and as the suspicious poultry merchant. Adriana Fontánez manages a lively, very indignant puppet goose.
Brown, Humphreys, Stevens, and Jerry Brown as Commissioner Peterson are comfortable with UK accents; Dehoyos is a bit mid-Atlantic. Sullivan Brown as the anguished young man speaks an odd idiolect meant to sound lower class; it doesn't fit his employment as an "upper attendant" at a posh hotel and at first is difficult to follow (for example, he renders "water" as "wa'a").
Jennifer Rose Davis's script closely follows the source (vide The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes at Project Gutenberg). It's not a long tale. The intercalated ten-minute intermission came as something of a surprise, and the entire performance lasted only about 75 minutes. Musicians and madrigals lengthen the run-time, set the atmosphere, and accentuate the holiday season. At the finale, after Mrs. Hudson happily announces, "The carolers are here!" the cast appears for their curtain call and a brief holiday sing-along of familiar carols for which sheet music was distributed to arriving audience members.
The venue is comfortable, the story's satisfying, the cast and staff are friendly, the concessions include hot cider and slices of delicious layer cake, and the Christmas cheer comes happily sneaking up even on the occasional Grinch. I stepped out into the evening afterward, feeling much better about facing the holiday season!
November 17 - December 18, 2022
10621 Pioneer Farms Dr
Austin, TX, 78754
Running Nov 17 - Dec 18, 2022, Thursdays through Saturdays at 8 pm and Sundays at 5 pm
Pioneer Farms, Austin
Tickets $10 (periphery) - $35 (premium table seating)
Thursday, November 17 - Pay-What-You-Can Preview
Saturday December 10 - Special showing at the Draylen Mason Studio at KMFA at 8 pm
Sunday December 11 - Special showing at the the Draylen Mason Studio at KMFA at 8 pm
Thursday, December 15 - Free Performance for Wells Branch at the Wells Branch Community Center
General admission is in individual chairs and along the walls and is first come/first serve.
All table seating is reserved. Specific tables will be assigned upon arrival. Premium tables can seat 2-3 people you must purchase at least 2 tickets to reserve the table. Regular Tables can seat 4-6. You must purchase at least 4 tickets to reserve the table. If you do not reserve the table, another party may be seated with you. All table seating comes with a pitcher of ice water and glasses. Premium table seating has the best views in the house.
We can accommodate handicapped seating as necessary in either general admission or table seating
For the safety of our performers and guests, we recommend that all patrons be vaccinated and the use of masks is strongly encouraged. In good weather, the hall windows will be open for extra ventilation.