The game is afoot yet again, as Theatre 40 brings beloved Sherlock Holmes (stage and screen actor Martin Thompson, who has carved a niche out for himself depicting the detective) back, this time onto the stage, with a revival of Katie Forgette’s 2009 play Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily. The “Lily” in question is English actress Lillie Langtry (Melissa Collins), who is being blackmailed.
What saves this play from being just another creaky Sherlockian retread featuring Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s popular private investigator is that the playwright has cleverly taken the artistic liberty of commingling preexisting literary characters created by another author with actual historical personages and dramatis personae the writer has presumably cooked up herself. Alongside Holmes, Dr. Watson (John Wallace Combs) and that dastardly “Napoleon of Crime” Prof. Moriarty (screen and on-and-Off-Broadway thesp Dave Buzzota), Forgette has injected the real life Oscar Wilde (theatre and film actor Scott Facher) and the eponymous Lillie Langtry (an actual famed British actress) into this comedy-drama set in Victorian London.
What may be most intriguing about Forgette’s two-acter is that Lillie’s real life affair with the Prince of Wales plus her daughter (who was not fathered by Lillie’s husband) form the basis for the play’s elaborate blackmail plot that entangles (who else?) Holmes and his arch-enemy Moriarty. The production’s Wilde is a dandy slinging witticisms and bon mots, injecting a gay sub-theme into the story. In reality, Lillie, an actress, was friends with the Irish poet and playwright who in Facher’s hands seems close to being a stereotype of gays as effeminate fops.
(What the play omits is that Wilde was an acolyte of Russia’s “Anarchist Prince” Peter Kropotkin and wrote the 1891 essay The Soul of Man under Socialism, wherein, among other things, Wild Oscar extolled the virtues of leisure for the working class – as opposed to just the, well, leisure class. But I suppose that would be another show.)
Like Dr. Sigmund Freud’s (a compassionate Alan Arkin) injection into Nicholas Meyer’s 1974 novel and script for its memorable 1976 film adaptation The Seven-Per-Cent Solution about Holmes’ battle with cocaine addiction, Forgette’s frothy concoction and combination of fact and fiction elevates this Holmes-ian piece above being merely yet another tried and true trite drama about Doyle’s famed sleuth. (Call Theatre 40’s version The 40-Per-Cent Solution?) The estimable Jules Aaron directs this mash-up between reality and confabulation, with sets by Jeff G. Rack and Victorian era costumes designed by Michele Young, with Holmes’ iconic deerstalker cap making a special guest appearance it at least one scene.
Buzzota brings a sort of punk panache to Professor Moriarty, giving the criminal mastermind a kinky, menacing vibe. The apparently celibate and solitary Holmes’ declining of the affections of Lillie (she has the aura of Irene Adler, Sherlock’s sole love interest in all of Watson’s – or rather, Doyle’s – sagas, who lured the private eye in his premiere outing, A Scandal in Bohemia) may explain why Wild Oscar is hanging around.
Overall, while some strict by-the-book Sherlockians may object to Forgette’s poetic license and her Baker Street irregulars, Jersey Lily is a case of good old fashioned theatrical fun during the holiday season.