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A Case of Holmes

Germantown stages Sherlock's Last Case.

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Could Germantown Community Theatre be planning a comeback? With a new executive director in place and one of the most consistently able casts to appear on stage at Germantown in recent memory, it looks like GCT is going out of its way to reinvigorate their existing audience while appealing to a demographic turned off by shows like 70 Girls 70. Although it ran close to three butt-breaking hours, the crowd couldn't stop laughing at director Brian Mott's staging of Charles Marowitz' darkish comedy Sherlock's Last Case. Word has it that holding for laughter added 20 minutes to the show, and there's no denying it: This knowing send-up of all things Holmesian is a riot. Granted, the densely layered innuendos might make a person overly sensitive to such things shout, "Say what you mean, for God's sake." Still, it should play well to diehard mystery/science-fiction fans and/or anyone capable of quoting Monty Python like Scripture. What it lacks in pep, it makes up for in style.

It's hard to get into the particulars of Sherlock's Last Case without dropping spoilers left and right. Let's just say that Holmes fans should find the plot twist unthinkable, inevitable, and delicious. It is painstakingly faithful to the spirit of the original stories, yet entirely irreverent -- like I Hate Hamlet for mystery junkies.

Memphis stage veteran John Rone, who seems to specialize in depicting clever contrarians, provides an interesting take on the well-known sleuth, but his performance falls a bit short of being definitive. Holmes has always been depicted as a tortured character, the unfortunate victim of his own obsessive genius. Unable to turn off those keen powers of observation that can make him seem omniscient and godlike, the great detective turns obsessively to diversion. He turns to music, manically sawing at his violin to shut out the barrage of information constantly assaulting him. When music fails to soothe him, he turns to the comforts of wine, tea, and cakes. When all else fails, there are always narcotics. Cocaine, anyone? It is this weaker aspect of Holmes that makes him seem volatile but ultimately sympathetic. Minus the human frailties, he's just overbearing, obnoxious, and impossibly vain. For Rone, the burdens of being the sharpest tack by far seem unbearably light and his addictions terribly manageable. There are no obsessions, only lifestyle. He is an unflappable, good-humored man of style, grace, and composure, who also happens to be a total jackass with tendencies that are certainly classist, if not entirely racist. It's a Holmes as perhaps Noâl Coward might imagine him: effete, aloof, and wicked after a fashion -- Oscar Wilde with a spyglass and a taste for "happy tea." In this particular instance, such an interpretation works well enough, but a bit more mania from Rone could give this slow-paced parody a shot of energy. It could also give the flyweight script some much-needed tooth without spoiling anybody's good time.

As Watson, Greg Krosnes is appropriately curmudgeonly, and the joy he takes from outsmarting Holmes is infectious. So is his ultimate guilt and paranoia. If there is a flaw in Krosnes' performance, it is one the 30-something actor cannot easily avoid: He's just too young for the part. Germantown is a tiny theater, and even the most distant seats are up-close and personal. Age makeup is always obvious in these circumstances, and petty as the gripe may be, this makes audiences more aware of what the actor is doing than the character. Krosnes is a virtuoso deeply in touch with his gifts and able to manipulate body and voice to suit his circumstances. Watching him so painted in this role is a bit like watching a good puppet show: amazing, yes, but lacking real life. The same might be said for Renee Davis Brame, whose delightful turn as Liza (daughter of a famous archcriminal or out-of-work actress? You decide) also lists toward the formal.

What Sherlock's Last Case lacks (and in abundance) is drive. When a show is running long, there is nothing worse than having to stare at a set of curtains while listening to the clunky sounds of a never-ending set change. Much of Sherlock's momentum (at least in the first act) comes from Sherlock himself, and Rone's cultivated Holmes, who drops venomous epithets like loving compliments, sets a more than leisurely pace. Krosnes' Watson, a calmer character to begin with, follows suit. And so it goes. In many ways, it's a joy to watch so many actors so at ease on stage. But not for three hours.

Through November 3rd

E-mail: davis@memphisflyer.com

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