How well do you really know your friends? That’s a question explored in Jeffrey Hatcher’s crisp mystery play, “Holmes and Watson,” which finds detective Sherlock Holmes and his partner in crime-solving, Dr. Watson, squarely in the middle of a complex case. Dramatic staging and acting bring the twists and turns of the story to life at the Long Beach Playhouse (LBP), creating a rollercoaster of suspense.
The setting is an asylum on a small island where Holmes may or may not be a resident since disappearing over a waterfall three years prior. Constant rain over the asylum is evoked by sound designer Mykaela Sterris—complete with thunder during pivotal moments—creating an ominous mood.
Watson (Noah Wagner) arrives by boat to verify whether one of three asylum patients (Nik Lillard, Jack Murphy and Steve Shane) is Holmes. One would think Holmes would be easily recognizable by his dear friend, but three years is a long time, plus the waterfall plummet may have changed him.
As Watson proceeds to interrogate each of the three patients (one of whom is apparently blind, deaf and mute), they recount versions of what happened that day at the waterfall when Holmes fatally confronted his arch-enemy Moriarty.
The waterfall is cleverly recreated in flashback scenes with fog (designed by Jesse Bosworth) descending at the back of the stage (and filling the theatre) with backlighting creating silhouettes of men falling. Video projection adds other details of that scene as well as black-and-white images of rooms in the asylum.
Besides these watery creative effects, the play is enhanced by the dramatic acting skills of some in its cast, especially Wagner as Watson. Each of Watson’s words and lines is delivered precisely and with nuanced emphasis, making him both sympathetic in his loyalty to Holmes and compelling in his purpose. (Wagner has been similarly excellent in past LBP productions such as “Cabaret” and “The Twentieth-Century Way.”)
Michael Paul King also takes enjoyably dramatic turns as both Moriarty and the Inspector (and even as the cruel Orderly). Kyla Druckman also deserves a nod as the steely Matron who helps Dr. Evans (Eldon Callaway) run the asylum and holds long suspicious glares at Watson, adding droll amusement.
The characters’ Victorian garb are well tailored (costumes by Christina Bayer), such as the Matron’s long white tiered dress and especially Watson’s cuffed tweed suit. And the full stage is well employed by Director Mitchell Nunn, designed by Javier Ruiz with strategic lighting by Bosworth.
How the truth unravels through multiple layers of deception takes sharp and unexpected turns, making “Holmes and Watson” a delightful escapade, capable of confounding the mind of Holmes creator Arthur Conan Doyle himself.
“Holmes and Watson” continues at the Long Beach Playhouse Mainstage Theatre, 5021 E. Anaheim St., through Oct. 22, with performances Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $14 to $24. For tickets and information, call the box office at (562) 494-1014 or visit LBPlayhouse.org. Run time is 1 hour and 45 minutes, including intermission. Proof of vaccination and masks required.