Acacia Theatre Company calls Acacia’s Holmes and Watson a “scintillating mystery” that is a “great deal of fun”.

Opened: June 9, 2023
Ended: June 25, 2023
Country: USA
State: Wisconsin
City: Milwaukee
Company/Producers: Acacia Theater Company
Theater Type: Regional
Theater: St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church
Theater Address: 7845 North River Road
Phone: 414-744-5995
Running Time: 90 min
Genre: Drama
Author: Jeffrey Hatcher
Director: Elaine Wyler

Acacia Theater Company, Milwaukee’s Christian faith-based theater company, offers theatergoers a scintillating mystery by playwright Jeffrey Hatcher in Holmes and Watson. The play conjures yet another adventure of the great fictional detective, Sherlock Holmes, and his right-hand man, Dr. Watson. And more than a few mysteries are uncovered along the way.

This gem of a play, only 90 minutes long with no intermission, immediately thrusts the audience into the shadowy world of Sherlock Holmes. As the play opens, one learns that it has been three years since the last sighting of Sherlock Holmes. He apparently went over a deadly waterfall at Reichenbach along with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. But Holmes’s body was never retrieved, and Watson has spent much of the past three years traveling around the United Kingdom to check on reports of a living Sherlock Holmes.

After interviewing countless imposters, Watson is summoned to an asylum on a remote island (somewhat like Alcatraz, one imagines) to test whether any of three asylum inmates – all claiming to be Holmes – is the real deal. Since Watson was Holmes’s best friend, his opinion is the gold standard.

In this neat interpretation, ably directed by Acacia stalwart Elaine Wyler, the audience is confronted with numerous possibilities. Which one of the three men – if any of them – is truly Sherlock Holmes? All three of the veteran actors (Mark Neufang, Ben Yela, and Michael Chobanoff) who claim to be Holmes offer a distinctly different “take” on Holmes’s personality. The first contender (Mark Neufang) is erudite and confident. The third (Michael Chobanoff) seems to be locked in a daze; he cannot see nor hear. Actor Ben Yela’s wild-haired, wide-eyed portrayal of Holmes is particularly captivating, as he navigates his character while under the constraints of a straightjacket.

As the plot continues, one finds that a great deal of humor bubbles up from these seemingly straightforward proceedings. Actor Brittany F. Byrnes, as the asylum Matron, gets more than her share of laughs. Her solemn appearances suggest a character from the film, “Young Frankenstein.” As Dr. Evans, the asylum’s supervisor, actor Jason Will also maintains a stiff upper lip in his dealings with Watson (Josh Scheibe). Watson expertly grills each of the three “candidates,” which are brought to him by a mostly silent Orderly (Joe Dolan). Dolan also assumes the roles of several minor characters in this production, and he excels at every step.

Holmes and Watson had its world premiere in spring, 2017 at the Arizona Theatre Company. By fall, the play had its first Milwaukee appearance as part of the Milwaukee Repertory Theater’s roster.

However, the vast stage of the Rep’s large Quadracci Powerhouse lacked a certain intimacy that this play requires. Acacia’s comfortable, small performing space in a church basement creates the proper environment for being drawn into this story. The audience seems to be just an arm’s length away from the drama unfolding onstage. And despite what one might expect to find in a “church basement,” the reality is a professionally built, full-fledged performing space.

Within the confines of this small performing space, Brian Harries’ set is reduced to a few elements, complemented by Dan Hummel’s lighting. Costumes by Katlyn Rogers Kelly are authentically rendered.

This show would be ideal for mystery lovers, as well as families with older children. Before the mystery is solved, playwright Jeffrey Hatcher reveals all sorts of twists and turns that keep the audience guessing throughout. Never fear; by the play’s conclusion, Sherlock Holmes’s identity is confirmed. And audiences will have a great deal of fun guessing at some of the cleverly hidden details that come to light only in the play’s final moments.

Josh Scheibe (Watson), Jason Will (Dr. Evans), Joe Dolan (Orderly), Brittany F. Byrnes (Matron), Mark Neufang (Holmes 1), Ben Yela (Holmes 2), Michael Chobanoff (Holmes 3)
Costumes: Katlyn Rogers Kelly; Lighting: Dan Hummel; Sound: Kevin Nash
At this time, masks are not required in the theater. Also, ticket prices are based on a pay-what-you-can basis.
Anne Siegel
Date Reviewed:
June 2023

Read the review here.