A Christmas play crossing Sherlock Holmes with Ebenezer Scrooge makes its PNW premiere at the Civic

If the title of A Sherlock Carol  seems at once familiar yet uncanny, that might be intentional. The play by Mark Shanahan takes two of the most popular characters of Victorian fiction, Sherlock Holmes and Ebenezer Scrooge, and creates a Christmas mash-up that riffs on both of their literary origins. Following its well-received off-Broadway premiere in 2021, the seasonally themed murder mystery is already making its regional debut on the Spokane Civic Theatre’s main stage this week.

“It’s a perfect blending of two icons, Holmes and Scrooge,” says director Jerry Sciarrio. “If you’re at all familiar with the Holmes stories, it’s set after the incident with Holmes and [his archnemesis] Moriarty at Reichenbach Falls. So, Moriarty is dead — to begin with. And Holmes is going through a major change in his life.”

The rudderless Holmes, robbed of his chief adversary, has lost his Christmas spirit as a result. But then he’s presented with an irresistible case by a grown-up Tiny Tim (played by Mathias Oliver), who now goes by Dr. Tim Cratchit. Scrooge (Gary Pierce), his best friend and benefactor, has died under mysterious circumstances. The game is suddenly afoot.

Playing Holmes is Dallan Starks, who’s previously appeared in Civic productions of The 39 Steps and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.

“Sherlock Holmes is a character I’ve wanted to delve into for a very long time. I’ve been watching Sherlock Holmes movies and reading Sherlock Holmes stories since I was about 10 years old,” he says.

“What’s funny is that I’m far less familiar with A Christmas Carol. So, when we’re going through the show there’s all these references, and everyone’s like, ‘Yeah, like in A Christmas Carol.’ And I get none of them. But then there are all these [indirect] Sherlock Holmes references to different characters and things. And I get it, but other people are like, ‘I don’t know what you’re talking about.'”

Even though this incarnation of Holmes isn’t plucked straight out of an Arthur Conan Doyle story, Starks says that both Shanahan’s characterization and his own portrayal of Holmes are of a detective that devotees will recognize.

“A lot of this is all of the worst aspects of Holmes amplified. His penchant for rudeness and being blunt? That’s turned up tenfold. And you get glimpses of the Holmes that everybody knows when he breaks people down,” he says.

But a holiday show wouldn’t be a holiday show without some redemptive magic, which is why Holmes also has “similar stuff going on” to the arc we traditionally associate with Scrooge. Likewise, Holmes’ more well-adjusted sidekick, Dr. Watson (Jeff Bryan), draws some inspiration from Charles Dickens’ holiday tale.

“In much the same way that Holmes sort of channels Scrooge, his relationship with Watson in this play is very much a Scrooge-and-Bob-Cratchit kind of relationship,” Sciarrio says.

Other characters from the literary source material also make cameos. A Christmas Carol‘s Mrs. Dilber, Scrooge’s housekeeper, and Old Joe, the marketplace fence, have varying roles here, as do Inspector Lestrade and Irene Adler from the Holmes lore. They’re portrayed by the ensemble cast, which includes Bryan as well as Rushele Herrmann, Tamara Schupman and Austin Strope.

When it comes to sets, Will Ledbetter, a guest designer from Eastern Washington University, has embraced the playwright’s suggestion that A Sherlock Carol be “presented in a theatrical way,” in Sciarrio’s words, rather than “attempting to recreate reality.”

“Will came in with some wonderful ideas. Just as a f’rinstance, the proscenium of the stage is framed with two very large meerschaum pipes that are also lampposts. So you’ve got the stereotypical Holmes pipe, but it also serves as a lamp. It’s blending theater and the reality of the story,” he says.

“Toward that end, all of the scene changes happen out in front of God and everybody. In fact, the ensemble is narrating as they’re moving the furniture into the next scene — basically, setting it up verbally as they’re doing it physically.”

However, that overt theatricality doesn’t mean that there won’t be some surprises.

“It’s a murder mystery, after all,” says Starks.

And because of that, he gets to announce, “The game is afoot,” right?

“Oh, you bet I do,” he says. “‘There’s nothing new under the sun.’ ‘When you have eliminated all that is impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.’ All the good Holmes phrases are there.”

“And dare I say,” Sciarrio laughs, “an adult Dr. Timothy Cratchit actually — twice — gets to say, ‘God bless us, every one!'” ♦

A Sherlock Carol • Nov. 24-Dec. 17; Thu-Sat at 7:30 pm, Sun at 2 pm •  $38 • Spokane Civic Theatre •  spokanecivictheatre.com


Article by E.J. Iannelli

Photo by Ryan Wasson

Read the full article here