I want to tell you that my dog ate my homework, but it was actually my computer… I had a longer review of Unbound Production’s current immersive theater show, Mystery Lit: Holmes, Sherlock and the Consulting Detective at the Los Angeles County Arboretum’s Train Station, and it was supposed to be here on Creepy LA a few days ago.
Things went wrong. (My apologies to everyone.) But not the play! So let’s dive in for a short look at the show…
Billed as “a theatrical mash-up of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s ‘A Scandal in Bohemia,’ ‘The Red-Headed League’ and ‘The Adventure of the Copper Beeches,'” this inaugural production of Mystery Lit (a spin-off of Unbound’s treasured annual Halloween season show, Wicked Lit) is just enough in the wheelhouse of things creepy in LA to get some digital ink on this website. It’s got moonlight, the yowl of peacocks in the night (it’s outdoors at the beautiful Arboretum), Victorian finery and skullduggery — it might not have the Hound of the Baskervilles, but mystery is just down the block from thrillers and horror, so we’re good.
The show is clearly an experiment. It doesn’t just combine the three stories mentioned above — it actually does them simultaneously, in an audacious choice by playwright Jonathan Josephson. (Wicked Lit, for example, runs all the stories of the evening consecutively — from the audience’s point of view — because we follow one story, then another, and then another.) If Mystery Lit has a weak point, I’m sorry to say that it lies in the script. The first act is witty and engaging (with some amusing physical comedy for Joe Camareno’s assured Doctor Watson), and the third act is zippy and humorous enough to verge on slapstick. But mystery is a tricky genre, and even with Conan Doyle’s original texts to draw upon, I’m afraid that act two becomes murky and the action becomes unmoored. Add to this the complexity of the play’s structure, as we cut from one set of characters’ adventure to another, and the audience is carried to the finale less by the narrative and more by the energy and charm of the cast.
Luckily, energy and charm are in very large supply. Unbound has brought back some wonderful familiar faces — it’s always good to see Richard Large, who plays “Holmes,” as well as Hannah Whiteoak, Robert Beddall, Eric Keitel and the aforementioned Joe Camareno. The return of Robert Paterno is another particular treat, as he added some laugh-out-loud moments, and it’s become mandatory to cheer the chameleonic Kevin Dulude. The newcomers are no slouches, either: Aaron McGee (good heavens!) and Jena Hunt turn in fine performances, while previous Unbound playwright John Leslie adds great atmosphere. The two most critical newcomers are Paul Romero (authoritative as “Sherlock”) and Chairman Barnes (constantly amusing as “the Consulting Detective”) — a lot of the show depends on their characters’ dynamics, and both actors live up to the challenge.
Paul Millet’s direction is strong, though again, the structure is demanding and the script isn’t quite there. The location is rather ideal (it’s not inside the main Arboretum, by the way, so beware) and all the tech crew do a fine job. On the night I saw it, there were a few glitches here and there, but if that’s enough to take you out of a story, then you need to go see more live theater until you learn to truly love it.
The show runs through July 1 and the schedule changes from week to week, so check the website for all the details. And above all, go see Mystery Lit — otherwise, you’ll never know whodunnit…