Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: Phoenix

Holmes and Watson
Don Bluth Front Row Theatre
Review by Gil Benbrook

Joe Kearns, Matthew R. Harris, and Cat Hartmann
Photo by Lee Cooley
After having its world premiere at Arizona Theatre Company in 2017, Jeffrey Hatcher's fantastic thriller, Holmes and Watson, is back in a well-cast production at Don Bluth Front Row Theatre. The small venue provides an intimacy to the play, which focuses on the famous detective Sherlock Holmes and his friend Dr. Watson, and the closeness of the actors to the audience manages to immediately pull the viewers into the engaging drama which is full of twists and turns and will constantly keep you on the edge of your seat.

There is an abundance of fun surprises in Hatcher's well-crafted play, so I'll do my best not to reveal anything of significance. The action is set almost three years after Sherlock Holmes' duel with Professor Moriarty, depicted in Conan Doyle's short story "The Final Problem," that left both men presumed dead after falling into the forceful waters at Reichenbach Falls. But is Holmes dead, did he go mad, or did he just disappear and is in hiding somewhere? Many men have come forward claiming to be Holmes, and his trusted sidekick Dr. Watson, since he knows him so well, has been the only individual able to determine if any of them were telling the truth. But none were. Now, three men have all claimed to be Holmes and the play begins with Watson being summoned to an asylum on a remote island to determine which, if any of them, is actually the famous detective.

Over the past 30 years, Hatcher has written numerous plays and screenplays, including some that feature Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective and his sidekick, including the 2015 film Mr. Holmes, starring Ian McKellen as a 93-year-old Sherlock Holmes, and Hatcher's 2011 play Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club, which also premiered at Arizona Theatre Company.

In Holmes and Watson, Hatcher has crafted an intelligent mystery thriller that manages to pull in events and characters depicted in the many Holmes stories, such as Moriarty and Irene Adler, so well-read Holmes' fans will find much to enjoy while those who have limited knowledge of the famous detective will still find the plot easy to follow and the action and intrigue well-crafted. Hatcher's dialogue is in the style of Conan Doyle's and it's also such a smartly written play that, remembering most of the twists and turns from having seen it before, I found a repeat viewing still entirely enjoyable, watching how Hatcher builds and foreshadows the twists with no forced or false plot elements.

The Don Bluth cast deliver fairly finely etched portrayals. Joe Kearns and Matthew R. Harris portray Dr. Watson and Dr. Evans, the head of the asylum. They deliver robust performances as two men who share the same goal–to determine who is the real Sherlock Holmes. As the three vastly different individuals who claim to be Holmes, Tom Endicott, Adam Petzold, and Lynn Golden deliver unique performances but are also entirely believable as the famous detective, which helps to keep the audience guessing. Harmon Swartz and Cat Hartmann are both fantastic as two of the assistants at the asylum and other characters in the flashback sequences.

Under Lee Cooley's direction, practically everyone in the cast plays at least two roles with wonderful dexterity. However, I have a few quibbles with the staging and added humor in this production. The cast is almost constantly moving and, on opening night, some of the actors were speeding through their dialogue. While I realize it's important for an in-the-round production to ensure the audiences on all sides of the stage have a clear view of the actors to provide an understanding of the plot and the characters, the almost constant movement and swiftly read lines detract from the dialogue and the importance of the plot. Also, while there are a few funny lines or moments in the script, this is a drama and not a comedy, so adding a puppet to portray Holmes and Moriarty in the flashback scenes and having a different sound effect every time a bell is rung adds unnecessary humor that threatens to detract from the serious nature of Hatcher's play and the intensity of Conan Doyle's characters.

Fortunately, even with those few shortcomings, there is still plenty of intrigue as well as a few laughs in Hatcher's script, which makes for a nice addition to the Sherlock Holmes legacy. With a wonderful cast, Don Bluth Front Row Theatre Company's production of Holmes and Watson is also a whole lot of fun.

Holmes and Watson runs through April 27, 2024, at the Don Bluth Front Row Theatre, 8989 E. Vía Linda #118, Scottsdale AZ. For tickets and information, please visit or call 480-314-0841.

Directed by Lee Cooley
Scenic Designer: Cheryl Schaar
Properties Designers: Cheryl Schaar & Lee Cooley
Lighting Designers: Bret Reese & Lee Cooley
Sound Designer: Roger McKay & Lee Cooley
Costume Designer: Teresa Knudson
Hair Stylist: Matthew R. Harris
Fight Choreographer: Keath Hall
Stage Manager/Puppeteer: Rob Littlefield

Watson: Joe Kearns
Dr. Evans: Matthew R. Harris
Orderly/Moriarty/Inspector: Harmon Swartz
Matron/The Woman: Cat Hartmann
Holmes 1/The Client: Tom Endicott
Holmes 2: Adam Petzold
Holmes 3/Signor Fonseca: Lynn Golden