Dobama offers an entertaining, exhausting ‘The Baker Street Irregulars’
By Bob Abelman
Just when you thought that every imaginable Sherlock Holmes mystery had been conceived and resolved, local playwright Eric Coble has written a Holmes for the holidays, which is getting its regional premiere at Dobama Theatre.
Once a mere collection of 12 stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, serialized in 1891 and 1892 in The Strand Magazine, the exploits of the fictional detective as retold by his sidekick Dr. Watson were expanded by the author into 44 more short stories and four novels.
Holmes’ adventures were turned into 46 feature films including 14 starring Basil Rathbone and two neo-noir action films starring Robert Downey Jr., brought into the 21st century in the BBC series “Sherlock” and the CBS series “Elementary,” and adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig as the madcap parody “Baskerville,” among other incarnations.
In 2010, four graphic novels written by Tony Lee and illustrated by Dan Boultwood featured the exploits of the Baker Street Irregulars, characters mentioned in the original Sherlock Holmes books “A Study in Scarlet” and “The Sign of Four.”
Coble’s “The Baker Street Irregulars” is based on those graphic novels.
It’s December on the streets of London and, after a run in with arch villain Moriarty, Sherlock Holmes is missing. So is a young girl’s grandmother. Who will save the day? Why, the Baker Street Irregulars – a small group of street urchins hired and trained by Holmes himself to help solve cases. Can these misfit kids find Holmes, unravel a mystery from their past, defeat a masked villain and teach us a lesson about the meaning of family? You bet they can.
Though the game’s afoot, Coble’s play trips over itself upon occasion in its valiant effort to be true to the arcane tropes that define this dated genre.
“The Baker Street Irregulars” is as exposition-heavy and melodramatic as anything written by Doyle, and comes complete with the requisite short scenes taking place in too many different locations, an excess of clues strategically laid out and deductively unveiled, and a sweeping undercurrent of Victorian morality.
In short, the show is a highly entertaining but exhausting evening for the young families it is obviously targeting.
To compensate, Coble has infused his play with comedy. Wonderful adult actors – including Christopher M. Bohan as Doctor Watson, Ray Caspio as the evil Morris Wiggins, Ananias J. Dixon as Inspector Lestrade, Laura Starnik as the missing Grandmother Mayhew, and Neda Spears as Mrs. Hudson, the landlady of 221B Baker St. – take on multiple characters and play each of them broadly for the laugh.
And the Baker Street Irregulars – Colin Frothingham as Wiggins, Miranda Leeann as Eliza, Elise Pakiela as Pockets, Patrick Hensel as Chen, David Gretchko as Tiny, and Adler Chefitz as Ash – are defined as much by their funny foibles as the skills they possess to solve crimes. These roles have been double-cast with other young actors who perform during the Saturday matinees of the run.
Director Nathan Motta has augmented the script with astounding production values, including T. Paul Lowry’s animated projections that help establish the industrial era ambience of 19th century London and sound design by Jeremy T. Dobbins that conjures a connection with the Guy Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” films best known to younger audiences. Ben Needham’s clever scenic design includes tracking walls on which the animated images are projected as well as an under-used turntable embedded in the flooring.
Part of what makes the evening exhausting are the distractions created by adorable but relatively inexperienced child-actors who pull focus by watching the audience, fading in and out of character, and scratching where Colleen Bloom’s period-perfect costuming creates an itch. Many of their lines are inaudible as well, requiring the audience to piece together the plot amidst the missing dialogue.
But this is easily outweighed by the commanding performances turned in by Frothingham, Leeann, Pakiela and Gretchko, the breakneck speed that Motta pushes Coble’s script, and all the sensory bells and whistles the designers put on display. Ryan Zarecki’s fight choreography is also a treat.
As a holiday show, “The Baker Street Irregulars” is certainly irregular but it is a most welcome alternative to the numbingly familiar and obligatorily festive theater offerings found elsewhere at this time of year.
“Sherlock Holmes: The Baker Street Irregulars”
WHERE: Dobama Theatre, 2340 Lee Road, Cleveland Hts.
WHEN: Through Dec. 30
TICKETS & INFO: $20–$38, call 216-932-3396 or visit dobama.org
Bob Abelman covers professional theater and cultural arts for the Cleveland Jewish News. Follow Bob at Facebook.com/BobAbelman3. 2017 AP Ohio Media Editors best columnist.
Originally published in the Cleveland Jewish News on December 2, 2017.
Lead image: Miranda Leeann (from left), David Gretchko, Adler Chefitz, Colin Frothingham, Elise Pakiela and Patrick Hensel. Photo / Steve Wagner Photography