Sherlock Holmes & the West End Horror, running through Saturday, Aug. 5, at Cortland Repertory Theatre, is based on a best-selling 1976 novel by Nicholas Meyer. Not content with the four novels and 56 short stories written by Arthur Conan Doyle, Meyer and other writers of “pastiche” novels have added some Holmes mysteries of their own to the canon.
Since Holmes had somewhat of a theatrical bent, it seems natural that he might take on a case that involves London’s West End theater district. This gives Meyer an excuse to introduce lots of luminaries from the late 19th-century theater world into his mystery, including George Bernard Shaw, Oscar Wilde, Bram Stoker, Ellen Terry and Henry Irving.
With such eminently theatrical material to work with, it’s no wonder that Marcia Milgrom Dodge and her husband, Anthony, both theater people themselves, got the idea of adapting Meyer’s work for the stage. The result is a delightfully intriguing if somewhat convoluted whodunit that begins with a murdered theater critic and ends with London being threatened by bubonic plague. Don’t ask.
Capably anchoring this production are James Taylor Odom as Sherlock Holmes and Joel Stigliano as Dr. Watson. Meanwhile, six other exuberant actors take on a raft of different roles, male and female. Logan Mortier, for instance, is sufficiently creepy as Bram Stoker, yet is so sensuously decadent as Oscar Wilde that he awakens the very sensible Watson to the possibilities of homoeroticism.
The play is full of literary allusions. Shaw (Daniel Wisniewski), at this point a theater critic just beginning to think about writing plays himself, is amazed that Holmes, merely from hearing people speak, can locate within a few blocks exactly where they were raised. Just in case the audience doesn’t get that the seed is being planted for Shaw’s creation of Henry Higgins, a flutist wanders across the stage playing “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
The play offers considerable fun even if you don’t get the references. When one actor mimics a clip-clopping horse, another provides the sound effects at a microphone with a pair of rubber hooves. When Holmes needs to escape, two actors come running out, slightly late, with the needed window. It’s hard to tell how much credit goes to the Dodges and how much goes to director Shaun Peknic, but in either case, the theatricality is a sheer delight.