There’s mystery and magic afoot at Harlequin Productions this season. The company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol, opening November 29, is a mashup that finds Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved detective receiving a series of ghostly visitors, as Scrooge does in Charles Dickens’ Christmas classic.
The combination of two of Victorian literature’s greatest hits — including visits from a number of spirits, beginning with the ghost of Holmes’s nemesis, Moriarty — is a natural for getting audiences into the holiday spirit, said John Longenbaugh of Portland, Oregon, the writer behind the show. The show’s premiere, at Seattle’s Taproot Theatre Co. in 2010, sold out its run, as did the first production at Portland’s Chapel Theatre, Longenbaugh said. The show has since been reprised at both theaters and produced a couple of dozen times elsewhere, including in Australia, Canada and England.
The Harlequin production, helmed by artistic director Aaron Lamb, stars Terry Edward Moore of Seattle, who played the brilliant detective at Taproot in 2010 and again in 2012. Longenbaugh has said he wrote the show with Moore in mind. “He’s one of my favorite Holmeses,” Longenbaugh said. The cast also includes oft-seen Olympia talents Russ Holm as Dr. Watson, Xander Layden as the young Sherlock and Eleise Moore as Inspector Lestrade.
As the story begins, the brilliant detective, in a misanthropic mode, is confronted by the ghost of his nemesis, Moriarty. Other ghosts soon follow, each bearing clues.
“You could imagine that the spirits of Dickens’s original had been sort of sitting in a green room for 40 or 50 years waiting for a new client,” Longenbaugh said. “The ghosts of past, present and future take on different forms, but they try the same sort of routine on him that they used on Scrooge, and it turns out that Holmes is a much tougher customer.”
Longenbaugh — who’s an arts journalist, novelist and director as well as a playwright — has clearly given some thought to the ingredients needed for a holiday play, and he considers Christmas Carol to be the model of one, as well as “one of the few perfect novels ever written.”
When he decided to write his own version, Longenbaugh landed on the idea of paying homage to Holmes as well and started studying all things Sherlock, consulting with dedicated Doyle fans to make sure his detective remained true to form.
Lamb, who acted in both Taproot productions of Case, is also clearly a Christmas Carol fan — and as those who’ve seen his take on such classics as Man of La Mancha and Hedda Gabler can attest, he relishes turning something old into something new. “Familiarity breeds complacence,” he wrote in his director’s notes for Case. “What better way to revisit (and hopefully rediscover) this most famous of redemption stories than to replace one famous curmudgeon with another?”
Next year, he’ll be directing his own adaptation of Dickens’s Carol and is promising more to come. “Tradition is important, especially around the holidays,” he said in a press release. “That’s why I want to find a tradition during my tenure that capitalizes on my strengths as a director and a storyteller and offers a great story to the community.” Meanwhile, he intends to bring out the magic in Longenbaugh’s mystery with special-effects surprises.
Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol
7:30 p.m. Nov. 27, 29 and 30 and Dec. 4-7, 12-14, 19-21 and 26-28;
2 p.m. Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, 7, 8, 14, 15, 21, 22, 24, 28 and 29;
7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 31
Harlequin Productions’ State Theater,
202 Fourth Ave. E, Olympia