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On Theater: H.B. Playhouse takes on Sherlock's 'final' case

May 02, 2012|By Tom Titus

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote "The Final Problem" in 1893, it was intended to rid himself of a problem — his increasingly popular sleuth Sherlock Holmes — and allow him to tackle more serious, if less lucrative, literary pursuits.

It didn't exactly work that way. Other Holmes stories, such as "The Hound of the Baskervilles," came later, proving that you can't keep a good man down, even by killing him — if, in fact, Holmes really died in that waterfall struggle with Moriarty that closes "The Final Problem."

The Huntington Beach Playhouse is quite aware of this and has revived the master detective in its current production "Sherlock Holmes — the Final Adventure," based on Doyle's "The Final Problem" and adapted for the stage by Steven Dietz. It's a tasty morsel for devotees of the mystery genre.

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All of the usual suspects (except, curiously, for Inspector Lestrade) are present in this circuitously plotted trip down memory lane, though the playwright takes his sweet time in getting Moriarty involved. With the professor's arrival, the scenario begins to sizzle, if not become completely combustible.

Director Gregory Cohen has assembled a worthy cast to enact this climactic melodrama, aided immensely by set designer Andrew Otero's darkly moody scenic elements. Otero also fashioned the complex period costumes, giving the show a true Victorian look.

Any stage production of a Sherlock Holmes adventure will rise or fall on the strength of its title character, and here the playhouse has an ace in its hole. Ryan Holihan, though a bit short in the tooth for the late-in-life sleuth, nevertheless succeeds admirably in interpreting this world-weary character whose still-razor-sharp deducing skills propel the action.

As Dr. Watson, Holmes' faithful assistant and the narrator of the "Final Adventure," Mitchell Nunn brings a tone of literate authority to his second banana character, traditionally a step or two behind the master in sorting out a problem.

Holmes' Achilles heel, who fans his elusive emotional flames, is the femme fatale Irene Adler, played with a diva's haughtiness by Amber Bonasso. Whether heroine or villainess, Irene is a force to be reckoned with, and Bonasso wrenches the utmost out of this mysterious character.

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