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A CurtainUp Review
Sherlock Solo

How gifted a thespian was I? Again eschewing all modesty, I note that throughout his writings Watson praises my talents, while a less biased observer, Inspector Athelney Jones, told me straight out, as recorded in The Sign of Four, that I would have made an actor and a rare one. &mdash Holmes
Photo Credit: J Victor Cahn as Sherlock Holmes
(Photo: on Kandel )
"I'm only interested in Sherlock Holmes if he is played by Basil Rathbone,"said a friend after hearing I was about to see a new play about the famous detective. It is true that Rathbone is the actor most closely identified with Holmes as a result of a series of 14 popular small-budget films produced between 1939 and 1946 and featuring Nigel Bruce, as Holmes's long-time friend and partner-in-sleuthing. But let us not forget that Jeremy Brett presented Holmes with a highly emotional and volatile side in the British television series that played from 1984 to 1994.

Lovers of mystery stories have long been grateful to Scottish-born Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 — 1930) who, while attempting to establish himself as a medical doctor also found time to invent possibly the most enduring and endearing sleuths in the history of literature. Notwithstanding his lack of patients, Doyle put his time to good use, particularly allowing his interest in deductive reasoning to be the key to Holmes's success. From 1887 to 1927, a steady stream of stories about Holmes and Watson appeared to the delight of a responsive public, including 56 short stories and 4 novels.

A little research discloses that there have been literally hundreds of actors who have played the role on the stage, the screen and radio. A 1965 Broadway musical Baker Street had Fritz Weaver wearing the deerstalker hat. It was in 1899 that the formidable stage actor William Gillette began the tradition of giving Holmes a dramatic presence. So there is no reason not to give the latest interpreter Victor L. Cahn, a fair shake as Holmes, whose accomplishments, other than as a solver of crimes, included being proficient as a chemist, a violinist and somewhat regrettably as a user of cocaine. Cahn, whose own credits include acting and playwriting as well as having been concertmaster of the Columbia College's University Orchestra, gives himself the opportunity to play the violin more than once, which he does with proficiency during his solo-performance.

Cahn, a tall, sturdy man with thinning appears happily eager to profile his Roman nose and, as Holmes, tell a story. He looks quite sharp enough in a vested light brown herringbone suit of 1910 vintage. He is presenting Holmes in retirement and in his dotage. The scene (as simply evoked by designer Sarah B. Brown) is a lecture hall in London where Holmes removes the white sheets that cover an easy chair and a desk. What remains in view is shrouded.

It is Holmes's objective to present us with a dramatically enhanced lecture, one that begins solicitously with thirty minutes of some moderately interesting exposition. Holmes recalls his early career as an actor, his growing interest in criminality, his distrust of women in general, various enthusiasms and more notably his love of Shakespeare and Nietzsche, all well and good. This eventually lead Holmes to the meat of his presentation, the dramatizing of a case never before made public and, as he reports, never told to Watson.

Although Cahn moves from chair to moving about the stage and back to the chair with grace and dispatch, his relaxed manner and limited emotional delivery is, presumably not meant to encourage more than our politely invited curiosity. The story that was "never made public," having to do with an American actress of loose morals, her two scheming admirers, and a Stradivarius, is not one that needs re-telling, certainly not in this review, even it essentially one written by Cahn for the occasion. Eric Parness directs this fiction within a fiction with confidence in our ability to keep our minds from wandering. Cahn's personable manner and countenance do manage to sustain his dramatic endeavor. Although he demonstrates a gift for accessibly florid prose, he failed to implant in his nicely researched play much in the way of surprise, suspense, cleverness, wit or humor.

A production of the Resonance Ensemble (Parness is the artistic director) Sherlock Solo, is a departure for the company that has built a reputation over the past six years of mounting classic plays in repertory with brand new pieces directly inspired by those classics. Recent production included Parness's adaptation of Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard in repertory with a contemporary version The Coffee Trees by Arthur Giron. Although Sherlock Solo only hints at the way classic literature and dramatic presentations may be successfully wed, it also reveals how easily they can also be incompatible.

Sherlock Solo
Written and Performed by Victor L. Cahn
Directed by Eric Parness
Written and Performed by Victor L. Cahn
Scenic Designer: Sarah B. Brown
Costume Designer: Sidney Shannon
Lighting Designer: Pamela Kupper
Sound Designer: Nick Moore
Running Time: 90 minutes no intermission
The Kirk Theater at Theater Row, 410 West 42nd street, (212) 279 - 4200
Tickets ($20)
Opened 01/14/08
Performances through 02/02/08
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 01/13/08

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide


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