Telling a story about one of the most beloved characters in the English language can be a daunting challenge, but the Sterling Playmakers prove all you need to do it well is a talented team and a love of the source material. Director Courtney Garofolo’s production uses Jon Jory’s theatrical adaptation, “The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes,” which is comprised of four, original Arthur Conan Doyle stories following the titular, eccentric detective and his partner, Dr. Watson. No Robert Downey Jr. fight scenes or slick BBC-style modernizations here, just Victorian-era Holmes and Watson solving curious cases through conversation and sheer deduction. This is refreshing to see, at a time when those more expansive modern adaptations can be what come to mind when modern audiences think of Sherlock, and it plays to the strengths of the medium and the Sterling Playmakers themselves.
…refreshing…a talented team and a love of the source material.
The vignettes start small with a relatively low stakes hunt for the origin of a particular goose, but escalate quickly into instances of blackmail, kidnapping, and even murder. Jeff Elmore’s portrayal of the detective is what keeps these stories afloat. He brings just the right amount of easy charisma to Holmes as he effortlessly pieces together threads of the cases that no one else thought to consider. It’s a lot of fun to just watch him and Watson wander London and confront Breckinridge, a difficult goose seller. In classic Sherlock convention, a significant portion of the script is dedicated to Holmes explaining what happened and how he figured it out. These breakdowns would easily drag coming from a lesser actor, but Elmore’s energy always keeps you wanting to know more.
Any good Holmes story, though, should also reckon with what happens when Holmes’ impressive skills cross the line into obsession and Elmore’s performance bridges this transition well. Not all of the cases go as he intends. As the world as it is starts to stray from the logical constructions Holmes has built in his head, you can see a clear shift in his manner. His pacing gets faster; his knee bounces in his chair as he listens to descriptions of a murder; and as things unravel you get the sense he’s about to do something drastic that everyone might regret. While the script doesn’t always give her an enormous amount to do, this is where Lauren Sunday’s grounded Watson provides the needed counterbalance to this ebb and flow of Holmes. Their strong, but not always smooth, personal relationship provides some welcome character flavor beyond the victim/perpetrator framework of the main stories.
Those stories are traditional Sherlock material beyond just their structure. The cast and crew went to great lengths to specifically evoke the feel of the detective in Victorian England. The costumes by Judith Harmon and set design by Kimberly Fry, Courtney Garofolo, and Michelina Polini communicate this ably, especially Holmes and Watson’s flat on Baker Street filled with all the little details and knick knacks you’d expect from a detective who makes a living in drawing meaning from the seemingly ordinary. The dialects also do their part here. They’re easy enough to fumble that many productions might not bother trying, but they work in this one to help even the smallest supporting roles shine a bit brighter. Special mention to Anthony Pohl on this point, who portrays the aforementioned difficult goose seller with a hilariously over-the-top, vague cockney accent all the way to the unsettlingly posh Mr. Rucastle with a penchant for dramatically evil laughter.
It all comes together to make a show that knows what it wants to do and then does it. If you’re looking for Sherlock Holmes to have a boxing match with Dr. Moriarty on the side of a waterfall or act as a spy for the Queen, that’s not the story the Sterling Playmakers are aiming to tell. If you want a slice of what makes the character of Holmes so enduring in the first place, they’ll certainly give you that.
Running Time: Approximately one hour and 30 minutes including one intermission.
“The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes” runs through November 19, 2023 presented by Sterling Playmakers in the theatre at Seneca Ridge Middle School, 98 Seneca Ridge Drive, Sterling, VA 20164. For more information and tickets, go online. Tickets are also available at the door. Cash, checks, and credit cards are accepted.