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A CurtainUp Los Angeles Review
Watson and the Dark Art of Harry Houdini
By Jon Magaril
The solution to that mini-mystery features inventive staging and, of course, an impressive display of Holmes' brilliance. But the cause of death turns out to be an accident. Robledo's prepping us to pay more attention to process than plot twists and turns. We need all the prep we can get. It turns out the central mystery involving the murders of several young women in London and Brooklyn's Coney Island is largely and disappointingly a MacGuffin.
Robledo ultimately focuses on a feat rarer than Holmes' power of deduction: coming to terms with death. For this, the Baker Street resident proves less helpful than the sometime spiritualist and brilliant escape artist, Harry Houdini. Bringing him into the mix is a terrific idea but Robledo develops his themes unsatisfactorily. In this world premiere, the plot is what comes to the most untimely end.
Getting to the abrupt finish is never less than fun, but it takes longer than it should. In every Robledo production I've seen, the pacing has been too deliberate. Perhaps slowness is the method chosen to maintain safety and quality control when understudies often go on and there many days off before the week's first performance.
In this instance, pauses between scenes may be a way to give Scott Leggett's Watson, on stage most of the time, some time to catch his breath. Whatever the reason, the momentum frequently stalls, particularly in the second act.
Nonetheless, the cast, as is usually the case at Sacred Fools, generates a great deal of good will. They work in contrasting styles. Joe Fria as Holmes (by way of Groucho Marx) and Graham Skipper as Watson's therapist, one Sigmund Freud, get mighty broad. And Robledo's writing turns way contemporary, yo, for the good doctor, which makes for easy laughs.
Donal Thoms-Cappello's Houdini convinces as a brash entertainer with potentially nefarious intentions. While suspended upside down and shackled in chains, he performs an impressive escape from a straightjacket. The women, Carrie Keranen as Watson's new love interest and understudy Anna Hanson as the spirit of his wife, have a fetchingly restrained approach. They also look fantastic in Linda Muggeridge's lovely costumes.
Leggett ties it all together. Befitting the character's restraint, he underplays but cannily meshes with all the other characters and the varied styles in which Robledo presents them.
All in all, it's a sumptuous experience. Ryan Johnson's original music and the other design elements provide a sense of grand scope despite the limits of space and budget. Robledo and his cast exhibit an outsized desire that wouldn't be out of place beside Houdini on the old boardwalk of Dreamland.