By Sydney Keller
Pittsburgh Current Intern
New works are the lifeblood of the theater. But it’s not often that a “new work” was adapted for the stage 109 years ago.
That play is Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Speckled Band. The company putting on this Sherlock Holmes mystery is Kinetic Theatre at the Charity Randall Theatre June 13-30.
Doyle wrote the short story in 1892 and adapted it for the stage himself in 1910. Kinetic’s Artistic Director Andrew Paul, who is directing and producing The Speckled Band, says this was the only one of Doyle’s stories adapted for the stage by the author himself.
“What Doyle has done, which I think is pretty genius, is that he has made it a completely theatrical version,” Paul says. “It actually is not similar to the original story. He has written it as a living, breathing stage play. This is more than a murder mystery, it’s a sheer adventure.
“It debuted in 1910 in London and on Broadway and then it just sunk without a trace. Somebody told me the script existed and I finally found the damn thing.”
The search for the play turned Paul into a Sherlock Holmes of sorts, and he finally found the entire play printed on a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle fansite in the UK. As far as Paul is able to discern, the play has only been performed once since its 1910 debut, 1979 at the Walnut Street Theatre in Philadelphia. He says he believes the underlying secrecy of this particular adaptation of Doyle’s work is what makes this play unique and why people must see the play for themselves.
“Nobody in the business seems to know this existed,” Paul says. “I think it’s going to play grippingly. It’s more of a thriller.”
Well-known local actor David Whalen plays Sherlock Holmes in The Speckled Band. Whalen also agrees that Doyle’s writing truly gives the sense of mystery-thriller.
“Thrilling” is the first word Whalen used to describe the play. “I like the fact that he is really involved in finding out the minutia, the backstory of crimes. I love that he goes deep into that.”
Whalen is Pittsburgh born and raised and says he gets his work ethic from being raised in the community. He has performed in more than 50 shows in Pittsburgh and is excited to perform with the Kinetic Theatre again because he has established a connection with Paul.
“It’s like going back to a relationship that you know and that you trust,” Whalen says. “He trusts me and I trust him.”
Whalen has played Sherlock Holmes five times; each time with Paul by his side. The trust is mutual because Paul says he considers Whalen as a co-producer of The Speckled Band. Whalen says he’s also made connections with his fellow cast members and has worked previously with many of the actors in The Speckled Band including David Crawford, Sam Tsoutsouvas, John Reilly and Ethan Saks.
“I love being a part of a company,” Whalen says. “It’s like being a part of a sports team that has been together for six, seven or eight years.”
Whalen describes The Speckled Band as, “A true locked-room mystery/drama of Sherlock.”
He says that each time he plays the role of Holmes, he brings as much of himself to the character as possible. Both Whalen and Holmes are workaholics which helps the actor relate and continue to play the character.
“I try to bring as much from my own history to make personal connections to the material so that it really feels alive and spontaneous because that’s what I think Sherlock is,” Whalen says. “I think within him is a deep yearning for good.”
Whalen describes how he has a passion for both acting in film and theater, but theater is alive and real, something that film doesn’t offer.
“Theater is exhausting, but it’s so rewarding,” Whalen says. “I love acting in the theater because that’s a real craft. There are no cuts, there’s no editing. Once it’s over, it’s over.”
That’s why he plans to enjoy his time as Holmes in this long-forgotten play.
“It’s a wonderful script,” he says. “I can’t wait to unleash it.”