There may be no more venerable fictional character than Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes. From his first appearance in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet through a series of Hollywood adaptations and innumerable British television series, the deerstalker cap-clad detective and his associate Dr. Watson have entertained audiences for well over a century.
The character entered the public domain decades ago and authors, screenwriters, and playwrights have had a field day since then coming up with new adventures for the intrepid duo. Recent iterations make significant changes to locale, time period, and even gender. Playwright Katie Forgette takes a more traditional approach with Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Jersey Lily, though she adds some historical characters and situations to the story. The Ross Valley Players have a production running through Feb. 20.
Holmes (David L. Yen) and Watson (Alex Ross) are bantering at 221-B Baker St when a mysterious lady arrives seeking Holmes’ help. It turns out to be well-known socialite and actress Lilli Langtry (Ellen Brooks) – the title’s ‘Jersey Lily’ – and her good friend Oscar Wilde (Izaak Heath). Wilde turns out to be a friend of Holmes who occasionally helps Wilde out with suggested titles for his plays. (He’s currently working on The Importance of Being Forthright.)
Letters have been purloined from Ms. Langtry detailing a clandestine relationship with the Prince of Wales. Coincidentally, Holmes has been tasked by Her Majesty Queen Victoria’s government to seek the return of some Crown Jewels the Prince gifted Langtry during the relationship. The game’s afoot as Holmes encounters various nefarious characters (Tamar Cohn, Joseph Alvarado) including his arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty (Michel B. Harris) as he attempts to save a lady’s reputation and avoid a royal scandal.
Forgette has a lot going on in her script, the problem is most of it goes on off-stage making most of the dialogue expository. Act I consists of 30 minutes of talk at Holmes’ and then 30 minutes of talk at Langtry’s, while Act II consists of 30 minutes of talk at the villains’ lair, a sword fight, and then 30 minutes of talk/explanation back at Baker Street.
Director Phoebe Moyer’s cast of North Bay regulars is game and – while limited by the script – deliver solid character work. Yen is a good vessel for Holmes’ dry humor while Ross nicely avoids Nigel Bruce-like buffoonery as Watson. Brooks makes for an alternately charming and remorseful Langtry. Heath’s Oscar Wilde is quite amusing and has the best lines in the show, as is to be expected since Forgette has sprinkled her script liberally with Wilde’s own bon mots.
Production values are slight, leaving it to costume designer Michael Berg to give the show its sense of time and place.
Familiarity and affection for the characters goes a long way towards enjoying the show, but there’s very little mystery in the two-and-a-half-hours it takes for Holmes to solve the case. The real mystery here is how playwright Forgette could combine such great characters with an interesting premise and deliver such a flat script.
‘Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Jersey Lily’ runs through Feb. 20 at the Barn Theatre in the Marin Art and Garden Center, 30 Sir Francis Drake Blvd., Ross. Thurs., 7:30 pm; Fri. & Sat., 8 pm, Sun., 2 pm. $15–$30. Masks, proof of COVID vaccination, and ID required. 415.456.9555. rossvalleyplayers.com
Photos by François Lemaitre