The mystery begins when you walk into the theater and notice a large box strangely levitating above the stage. What’s in the box? As we find out later, that’s the singular question occupying the brightest minds in a motley group of Sherlock uber fans. The fans belong to several Sherlock Holmes Societies with names like the “Baker Street Irregulars” and the “Sherlockians”. They gather at a local pub to discuss all things related to Conan Doyle and his ingenious creation, Sherlock Holmes.
Readers of mystery novels know that a good plot begins with a murder, and so the true story here begins. It’s 2004 and the body of Mr. Green (Alan Tudyk), the world’s foremost Sherlock expert, has been found by his friends under very “Mysterious Circumstances”. The game is most certainly afoot as his friends and the police attempt to uncover the identity of the killer.
We see the body discovered in his locked apartment. The door was locked from the inside… We flashback in time and meet Mr. Green, now very much alive and yet we know his clock is ticking down. This gives the performances a sense of urgency. Each new character introduced is now also a suspect. Who will be the one to fell our awkwardly lovely hero? He’s a nerd, with a few friends and a jealous academic acquaintance. Perhaps his Moriarty?
And yes, Sherlock makes an appearance with his sidekick Watson (Ramiz Monsef) to wittily opine on the facts as they are uncovered. Tudyk as Sherlock in his wool hat and cape strides purposefully across the stage, reciting the clues for us. In his most Sherlockian manner, he reminds us of the small details we may have missed. Elementary, of course.
We meet the suspects… and there are many. Though the play is performed with only seven actors. I lost track of the number of characters they portray. A cab driver, a dentist, an old woman in a wheelchair, servants, police, and others… Using wigs, accents, and a few props, the actors scurry off one side of the stage only to shed their characters in the wings and return in a different role. The actors pull off this trick exceptionally well and part of the fun is trying to see through the costumes to identify them.
I was most impressed by Alan Tudyk in his dual roles of Mr. Green and Sherlock Holmes. There is a scene at the pub where Tudyk brilliantly transforms from the character of Sherlock back to Green onstage. With his back to the audience, he slowly drops his head as Sherlock and leaning slightly forward his trademark deerstalker hat slips off. Then, as he straightens his body, he gradually shifts his center of gravity, raises his shoulders only slightly, and turns around becoming Green. No makeup change, no special effects. Tudyk’s magically brilliant transformation between characters will have you mesmerized.
To find the killer’s motive, the plot cleverly hops back and forth between true events which took place in the lives of Green in 2004 and Conan Doyle in 1894.
Conan Doyle (Austin Durant), the author of the Sherlock stories, is frustrated. His life overcome by the tragic illness of his wife Touie (Helen Sadler), he struggles to find meaning in his writing. He longs to end the Sherlock stories and move on to something more meaningful, but the public has fallen in love with his dazzling fiction and begs for more stories.
In 2004, Green is a man obsessed. Rumors swirl among various factions of Sherlock and Conan Doyle fandoms about a box that may contain previously unpublished Sherlock stories and perhaps even an autobiography by Conan Doyle. At their meetings, the members discuss nothing else. Who could have the rumored box, where is it hiding, and what is in it?
As Green tries to find this holy grail of writings, we flashback to Conan Doyle distraught over his wife’s illness and disgusted by the public’s obsession with Sherlock.
We are carried along by the driving plot. Are there more writings? Will Conan Doyle kill off Sherlock? Is there a possibility of new stories to add to the Sherlock canon?
This story about an obsession with new material works really well for a modern audience used to binge watching our favorite television shows. I identified with Green as he longed to have just one new Sherlock story to devour. Playwright Michael Mitnick’s breezy script and crackling dialogue gets to the heart of our intense desire to possess more of what we love. It’s a yearning that can never be satisfied. As we own more, we want more.
Alan Tudyk’s fragility and intellect are right on the surface as he plays the awkward Mr. Green. Having amassed a library-sized collection of Sherlock tomes, he sits alone in his apartment drinking wine and quietly longing for human connection. We see a man struggling with the way his single-minded focus on academia has wrapped him in the isolated solitude of his artifacts.
And as the madness and obsession over the box takes hold, we find Sherlock appearing more often, unraveling the mystery as Green and Sherlock begin to fall apart.
Who killed Green? Why? What’s in the box? Is it murder? Or suicide?
Draw your own conclusions at the Geffen.
Mysterious Circumstances is playing now through July 14.
Tickets available at GeffenPlayhouse.com