By Ted Hoover
Pittsburgh Current Theater Critic
In an act of theatrical reclamation, Kinetic Theatre has unearthed a copy of the long-forgotten The Speckled Band, a script which has the distinction of being the only Sherlock Holmes play written specifically for the stage by none other than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself.
The show, which opened in London in 1910, was adapted from an earlier short story and earned Conan Doyle praise both in England and on Broadway where it played for 32 performances. (That was a lot in those days.) Despite the good notices, the script unaccountably disappeared and only through a few chance remarks and a bit of literary sleuthing has Kinetic Theatre been able to present what is quite likely the Pittsburgh premiere of The Speckled Band in a fine, handsome production directed by Andrew Paul.
The Speckled Band continues through June 30. Stephen Foster Memorial Theatre, Oakland. 888/718-4253. www.kinetictheatre.org
If you ever wonder how people entertained themselves before TV or movies or even radio, Speckled Band will give you a pretty good idea. In fact, it answers the specific question of how boys and men (BOTH young and old) amused themselves back in the day.
The Sherlock Holmes stories have always had a certain whiff of boy’s adventures being told ‘round a roaring fire. We tend to categorize Conan Doyle in the same field as Agatha Christie but that, it seems to me, is wide of the mark. Christie wrote mysteries while Conan Doyle crafted suspense tales of intrigue and derring-do. And certainly The Speckled Band proves to be just that.
We’re in a moldy, gloomy estate somewhere in the English countryside. The evil madman Dr. Rylott is in the process of killing his stepdaughters so he can get from them the money they got from their mother … who Rylott may or may not have killed as well. One sister has already died, but how the murder was committed is something of a mystery. The surviving daughter, Enid, is lucky enough to be friends with Dr. John Watson who, as we all know, is friends with Sherlock Holmes …
Though the sheer weight of the show’s melodrama may seem quaint and almost campy to modern sensibilities (Rylott does everything but tie Enid to the railroad tracks,) it’s not difficult to imagine how caught up an Edwardian audience would have been with all these hijinks.
And credit goes to this Kinetic production for playing the whole thing as straight as a poker without ever winking at the audience. A large cast of quite talented folks performs with utter conviction and integrity.
David Whalen, who has appeared as Holmes in numerous local productions previously, returns to town to take up the mantle again … and there’s a reason he keeps being asked back. What’s interesting about The Speckled Band is that Holmes doesn’t show up until the second act, but Whalen easily takes control of the proceedings once he finally gets his chance to strut and fret on stage.
Sam Tsoutsouvas is a fireball of fury conjoined with agonizing self-loathing at his own venality. It’s a nice trick if you can do it and Tsoutsouvas certainly does.
Jessie Wray Goodman is the imperiled heroine Enid and while she doesn’t have a lot to do except stand around being imperiled – Goodman gives her a sharp intelligence and determination. James FitzGerald is Watson and, like so many Watsons in the past, has to serve as the exposition purveyor and Holmes sounding board – it’s not the best gig in the world, but FitzGerald handles all of it with talent and grace. Martin Giles and Wali Jamal get a chance to shine in a few quirky supporting characters and Lisa Ann Goldsmith plays a hissable villain with plenty of polish.
Add in Kim Brown’s entertaining costumes and truly ingenious set design by Johnmichael Bohach and, all in all, Kinetic’s Speckled Band is a fun little Edwardian romp.