An affable, unchallenging evening of theater awaits at the City Lit Theater, where their latest Sherlock Holmes adaptation, “The Sign of the Four,” occupies the stage. Conan Doyle’s sophomore effort further fleshes out the famous duo. Included in this tale are the now familiar array of Holmesian elements: deductive gymnastics from minutae; sleepless nights of chemical experiments, violin sawing, and mysterious muckraking; sinister rogues with nefarious plans lurking on the Thames; dunderheaded police officers, Watson’s trusty service revolver, the Baker Street Irregulars, and so forth. Watson picks up a wife, Holmes picks up some cocaine and a syringe, and we’re off to the next mystery.
The evening plays out like a staged reading of a 19th Century pulp novel. The actors spend a lot of time standing around telling the audience what is going on, as if reading directly from the novel. No Herculean attempt is made to transport the audience anywhere, place them in the scene, or build much dramatic tension.
The audience I saw the piece with seemed to enjoy it well enough; I felt as if I were among a group of friends, gathered for the evening to hear other friends put on a little show. Audience and actors both were relaxed and comfortable, as if settled in someone’s living room; all seemed to be in agreement that we were going to make do with what we had, suspend our disbelief, and make it an early night.
Personally, I was unmoved. I saw very little attempt to move off the page and to the stage; the cast and director seem content to play the actions dictated to them and allow their words convey the story to the audience. I was an avid Holmes reader as a child, and love the world that Conan Doyle conjures, so I will not speak ill of the material or the attempt to keep it alive; if you’d like to hear the story, good-naturedly read to you from a stage, then by all means amble up to City Lit and see this show.