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REVIEW: HOLMES & WATSON—Laguna Playhouse

Updated: Jun 6

There's just no killing Sherlock Holmes.


LAGUNA BEACH—Sherlock Holmes is dead. Or so it is assumed. The world knows the great detective went over the falls at Reichenbach with his nemesis Professor Moriarty. But as Holmes’ body was never retrieved, a number of frauds, fakes, and charlatans have come forward since to lay claim to his identity, and it falls to Dr. Watson to disprove them.


But could the greatest sleuth of all time truly be dead? A multitude of miscreants and malefactors have tried—by rifle, revolver, butcher's cleaver, hellhound, et al.—to make that happen…with no success. Even Holmes' creator failed in the attempt. In 1893, after two novels and two dozen short stories left him weary of the deductive genius, Arthur Conan Doyle resolved to rid himself of Holmes and in "The Final Problem" threw him off a cliff. The sleuth tumbled into Switzerland's Reichenbach Falls, locked in mortal combat with his newly created archenemy: Professor Moriarty, the "Napoleon of crime." But the public hue and cry over Sherlock's death was so intense that eight years later, Doyle undid it, penning a tale in which Holmes miraculously reappeared, alive, and resumed his crime-solving career.


Richard Baird stars in the Laguna Playhouse production of “HOLMES & WATSON” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Becah.

Featuring the iconic character of Sherlock Holmes, this final production of their 2023/24 season from Laguna Playhouse brings back award-winning playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who has a long resume of mysteries and whodunits, including the 2013 book, “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club,” and the 2015 British film “Mr. Holmes,” which starred Ian McKellen.


Matt Koenig, Matthew Floyd Miller, Mike Peebler, Alice Sherman, Christopher M. Williams, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Richard Baird star in the Laguna Playhouse production of “HOLMES & WATSON” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

Jeffrey Hatcher uses the character's death and resurrection as the jumping-off point for his original drama “Holmes and Watson.” In it, the demise of the detective has sparked a firestorm of hysteria, with scores of people claiming to be Holmes and his companion/chronicler having to investigate them and assure authorities they're not.


The play follows Dr. Watson to a remote asylum in Scotland to check out a trio of such claimants (Matthew Floyd Miller as Holmes#1, Matt Koenig as Holmes#2 and Christopher M. Williams as Holmes#3). The play might, in fact, be more aptly titled Watson and Holmes, for while the good doctor is outnumbered three to one by Sherlocks, he's the one in the spotlight, sifting through clues, interrogating suspects, and concocting plans to find a solution to the mystery.


Mike Peebler (top) and Christopher M. Williams star in the Laguna Playhouse production of “HOLMES & WATSON” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

It begins with a crack of thunder and ends with the haunting, fading strings of a violin. Hatcher not only succeeds in keeping us guessing right up until that violin fade, he’s also written a crowd-pleaser. A thorough delight that keeps you committed to its machinations from beginning to its unexpected end. But we don’t want to reveal any ending. To do so would be committing a criminal act of Moriarty proportions.


Richard Baird, Mike Peebler and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper star in the Laguna Playhouse production of “HOLMES & WATSON” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

In Laguna Playhouse's production, much of the fun is in the gravity. As our Watson, Richard Baird takes every aspect of the case as seriously as testimony in a murder trial. Never mind that the three Sherlocks here bear no physical resemblance to one another or that there's no good reason for his Watson not to be able to recognize his friend of 10 years at a glance. Mr. Baird plays the part as one who locks himself inside the story, where the stakes are life-and-death, and in doing so, he grounds a tale that could easily slip into campy melodrama.


Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Mike Peebler, Matt Koenig and Richard Baird star in the Laguna Playhouse production of “HOLMES & WATSON” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

Moreover, he imbues Watson with a sincerity and resourcefulness that wins our admiration and makes us want him to succeed even though he isn't Sherlock. He notes that all three men seem to enjoy taking a pull on Holmes' Meerschaum pipe. And all convey the same exceptional intelligence and pridefulness, though each shades them in his own way.


Alongside Mr. Baird is Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper’s Dr. Evans, the asylum director, who gets deeply invested in the proceedings and follows every development with bated breath. A mystery woman (Alice Sherman, also playing the Matron) adds more suspense to the plot. Of course, all this is irrelevant, considering the many identity switches, plot twists and revelations. But no spoilers here. You’ll need to check this one out yourself.


Mike Peebler (top), Richard Baird and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper star in the Laguna Playhouse production of “HOLMES & WATSON” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein and now playing at the Laguna Playhouse in Laguna Beach.

Artistic Director of Laguna Playhouse David Ellenstein keeps the intermissionless show at a brisk clip, the better for Hatcher's mystery to stay one step ahead of the audience, just as Sherlock does Inspector Lestrade. That hapless policeman doesn't appear here, but Hatcher gives tips to a few other incidents and characters in the canon. They're added delights for those who know the original adventures, but all that's really required to enjoy this show is the love of a good mystery, and a delight in every twist. And with that my dear Watson, once again “the game's afoot!"


The cast of HOLMES & WATSON features: Richard Baird (The Rainmaker at Laguna Playhouse) as “Watson;” Matt Koenig (Cabaret at La Mirada Theatre) as “Holmes#2;” Matthew Floyd Miller (Sleuth at Ensemble Theatre Company) as “Holmes#1;” Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper (Oliver at 5-Star Theatricals) as “Dr. Evans;” Mike Peebler (Hamlet at Theatricum Botanicum) as “Orderly/Moriarty/Inspector;” Alice Sherman (Amadeus at North Coast Repertory) as “The Matron/The Woman;” and Christopher M. Williams (Tartuffe at Laguna Playhouse) as “Holmes#3."


The design team for HOLMES & WATSON are: Scenic Design by Stephen Gifford; Costume Design by Kate Bergh; Lighting Design by Jared A. Sayeg; Sound Design by Ian Scot; Props Design by Kevin Williams; Hair and Wig Design by Peter Herman; Fight Choreography by Christopher M. Williams. Casting is by Michael Donovan Casting; Michael Donovan, CSA & Richie Ferris, CSA. The Production Stage Manager is Vernon Willet.


HOLMES & WATSON will run through Sunday, June 16th at Laguna Playhouse, 606 Laguna Canyon Dr. in Laguna Beach. Performances are Wednesdays through Fridays at 7:30pm; Saturdays at 2:00pm & 7:30pm; Sundays at 1:00pm & 5:30pm. Tickets range from $45 - $84 and can be purchased at www.lagunaplayhouse.com or by calling (949) 497-2787.

Chris Daniels

Arts & Entertainment Reviewer

The Show Report


PHOTO CREDIT: Jason Niedle/Tethos








 

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