I’ll admit, dearest readers, that I was a bit worried during the first twenty minutes or so of Sherlock’s Last Case. Not so much because the title made me anxious for Sherlock Holmes’s fate (although that is an anxiety you are expected to entertain as part of the play), but more because the play starts out looking like the kind of creaky drawing-room whodunit that’s generally a wee bit too lite for my tastes. But the play – written by Charles Marowitz in the late eighties – is all about misdirection, and director Andrew Paul follows Marowitz’s lead by regularly pulling the rug out from under his audience’s expectations. By somewhere in the middle of the first act, it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a play that refuses to take itself too seriously, deriving as much fun from mocking its own genre as it does from its plot turns.
Paul and company have gone to great lengths (including some sleight-of-hand in the program) to keep Marowitz’s plot twists a surprise, so I won’t spoil any of it for readers who have not yet seen the production. Suffice it to say that Holmes’s “last case” gives a prominent role to Dr. Watson, played here with virtuosity by Simon Bradbury. The casting of David Whalen in the role of Sherlock Holmes lends this production an added frisson of intertextual metacommentary for Pittsburgh theater insiders (who will recall that Whalen previously played Holmes in two productions with PICT in the very same venue). Rounding out the cast are Weston Blakesley as a befuddled cockney Inspector LeStrade, Susie McGregor-Laine as Holmes’s Scottish housekeeper, and Joanna Strapp as the mysterious visitor who sets the machinery of the plot in motion.
Johnmichael Bohach’s scene design helps set the self-referential tone of the play with oversized framed newspaper headlines that comically highlight the ridiculously convoluted cases Holmes has already solved (and provide satiric context for the ridiculously convoluted manner in which he ends up, er, overcoming the challenges of the case at hand). Like the production itself, Kim Brown’s Victorian costumes start off somewhere in the realm of historical realism and get gradually campier as the play itself does. Topping off the fun are Steve Tolin’s ingenious special effects, involving, at various points, massively foaming potions, exploding skeletons, and projectiles of fake blood.