“I shall not rest till I have his testicles in the palm of my hand,” vows Sherlock Holmes of the villain he plans to apprehend in Charles Marowitz’s 21-year-old perennial. Holmes is an “arrogant, supercilious, egocentric, narcissistic, smug and self-congratulatory bastard,” and Marowitz has given Arthur Conan Doyle’s legendary character a battery of sharp, biting lines. The problem is that Time Winters, in the title role, plays it too heavily and seriously, reducing the humor and enabling second banana Watson (Louis Lotorto) to commit grand theatrical larceny and walk off with the show.
This is a comedic twist, since the character of Watson has lived in Holmes’ shadow and secretly seethes over Holmes’ low estimate of him as a mediocre, invisible drone. Only fleeting glimpses of Watson’s resentment appear at first, and his feigned concern for Holmes’ welfare seems genuine after Holmes learns the son of deceased arch-enemy Professor Moriarty is planning to kill him.
Despite lethal jeopardy, the story takes time to kick in. Holmes’ sobbingly emotional maid, Mrs. Hudson (Lisa Beezley), gets laughs in her early scenes, but her broad responses confirm Watson’s remark, “Mrs. Hudson, you must learn to restrain yourself.” British accents are self-consciously thick blankets weighing down the wittiness of Marowitz’s dialogue.
The overall touch lightens when Liza (Pat Caldwell), sister of the man who wants to murder Holmes, arrives at 221-B Baker St. to stress imminent calamity. Stylishly dressed by A. Jeffrey Schoenberg in a green print gown, Caldwell is properly attractive and enigmatic, justifying Holmes’ infatuated statement, “You have the brightest, most intense and exciting eyes I have ever seen in a woman.”
Since the dour Sherlock inspires no emotional investment, concern for his welfare never develops, and the presence of cloddish Inspector Lestrade (Brett Elliott) does little to stimulate suspense. When Elliott utters a sparkling line, such as “you shattered me” after learning of Watson’s true nature, he exhibits acting talent, but in general it’s a thankless role.
Nearly an hour of the play feels like ponderous prelude, until Holmes and Watson enter an isolated old mill and Watson’s brilliantly nefarious scheme to eliminate his patronizing nemesis becomes apparent.
Lotorto, skillfully directed by David Rose, builds the episode beautifully, beginning with low-key menace and expressing increasing satisfaction while strapping Holmes to a La Frontenac chair and spelling out his grisly goal. When Watson says, “How you enjoy lording it over your bumbly, slow-witted, treacle-minded aide-de-camp … your selfless, fawning, ever-faithful Boswell,” the speech, and Lotorto’s multidimensional delivery of it, constitute crackling theater.
Following this seemingly perfect crime, Lotorto’s portrayal continues to deepen the character, highlighting him as a happy solo master of the house. The only inconvenience is interviewing impostors claiming to be Holmes, and he has another beguiling moment flinging a host of questions at one especially convincing candidate — Winters, in clownish brown plaid suit, letting hilariously loose and displaying the comic chops missing from his other scenes.
“Sherlock’s Last Case,” the first production of the Colony’s 30th-anniversary season, is one of its most impressively mounted productions, dense with details that evoke 1897 Victorian London. David Potts’ revolving set divides its time between Holmes’ elegant flat with hourglass, pipe rack and red flower wallpaper, and the stony, darkly sinister mill. The mill sequences are further enhanced by Jeremy Pivnick’s lighting, which gives them a dank, ominous air.