Holmes and Watson is a Devilishly Good Show Old Bean! At Park Square Theatre in St. Paul.

Daniel Petzold and Bruce Roach Photo by Dan Norman

Park Square Theatre’s annual tradition of the summer mystery returns and this year it’s a corker! I’m a huge Sherlock Holmes fan, my love for the character began at an early age watching the old Basil Rathbone series of films from the 1940’s with my Dad. I’ve read everything Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote featuring the great detective, what we fans consider canon, as well as novels and stories by other writers. When I saw the title of this years mystery offering, Holmes and Watson, fantastic! Then I read the three sentence plot synopsis:

Dr. Watson receives a telegram from a mental asylum: three patients are claiming to be Sherlock Holmes. Did the world’s greatest sleuth fake his own death? Who’s the real detective and who are the imposters? 

Park Square Theatre Website

and thought, how is that supposed to work? Are we supposed to believe that Watson wouldn’t instantly recognize Holmes? Are all the lights out and he has to try and determine who is Holmes by their answers to questions? Is this going to require a herculean suspension of disbelief to enjoy? If these questions occurred to you as well, fear not. The key to the success of the script is that this is Doyle’s Watson, not the dim witted Watson portrayed so loveably by Nigel Bruce 80 years ago. This Watson is intelligent and brave and will be wary of revealing what he knows until he gets the lay of the land. And that is all I can say about the plot of this production, anything more might inadvertently give something away.

Jeffrey Hatcher’s ingenious script for Holmes and Watson is everything you could want in a stage thriller. Intricately plotted, a premise that seems unlikely, quickly becomes intriguing. Twists pile up one upon another without ever feeling forced but rather, deeply satisfying. As the pieces of the puzzle begin to fall into place the logic seems as simple as Sherlock’s deductions after he has explained them. But, just when you think you have it figured out a new twist comes and it seems as if the pieces have been scattered only to fall back into place while creating a wholly new picture. Twisty turny to be sure yet straightforward in its intricacies. The other beautiful aspect of the script is that it does not contradict canon. This play fits snugly in between “The Final Problem” and “The Adventure of the Empty House” we just have to accept that at Holmes’ request, Watson has withheld these events. Usually with mystery plays or thrillers I’ve read the book or seen the film version and as enjoyable as they may be it’s never quite the same when you know the answer to the mystery going in. That’s what made this production so enjoyable, I had no idea which was the real Sherlock Holmes, and thus was able to keep guessing up until his last bow. I’m so impressed by Hatcher’s script that I’m more excited than ever for his collaboration with Steve Hendrickson on next Summers Park Square Mystery Holmes/Poirot!

The script is brought to life by an excellent cast headed by Bruce Roach as Watson and Daniel Petzold as Dr. Evans who has summoned Watson to the Asylum located on a remote island. I don’t know where Daniel Petzold has come from, or what the story is, does Park Square have him under exclusive contract? He was fantastic in their last production Airness, and again shines here. I hope this young man is going to set down roots in the Twin Cities, based on what I’ve seen so far, he is a very talented actor. This show has a terrific Watson that’s for sure. Roach’s character may get second billing in the title, but it’s really his show. He deftly controls what he lets us the audience in on, giving us just enough to keep up with him, but never enough to get very far ahead. We also get multiple versions of Sherlock Holmes, each unique, each at different times completely plausibly the real Holmes. Each time Pearce Bunting (Holmes 2), Paul De Cordova (Holmes 1), and Peter Simmons (Holmes 3) are brought on stage I thought the true Holmes was a different one, which is a way of saying I never really guessed who the real Holmes was. The cast is rounded out by nice supporting turns from Kirby Bennett as the Matron and Peter Christian Hansen as the orderly.

Director Michael Evan Haney has the show perfectly paced, things move fast enough to keep you off balance, but never too fast so that you lose track of anything. His visual staging of the various tellings by the three Holmes’ of what really happened between himself and Professor Moriarty at the Reichenbach Falls is wonderfully executed. The set design by Erik Paulson is wonderfully realized version of what you might imagine in your mind at the suggestion of a late 19th century asylum on a remote island in Scotland. Stone Walls and wooden beams bring to life this creepy location. Add in some really effective lighting design by Mary Shabatura and sound design by Montana Johnson who work together to create a thunderstorm to add perfectly to the atmosphere. This truly is a top notch production from script to finished performance. Holmes and Watson Runs through August 21st at Park Square Theatre. It’s hard to imagine anyone not having a great time with this show. From its smart intricate script and wonderfully evocative set to a wonderful cast, this production is the one to catch this summer! For more information and to purchase tickets go to https://parksquaretheatre.org/.

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