In “Sherlock Solo,” his one-hander about famed fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, writer-performer Victor L. Cahn tries to create both a revealing character study and a ripping good mystery. But both goals are thwarted by an undisciplined script and a vague production.
The play unfolds at a lecture given near the end of the detective’s life. In his opening speech, Cahn’s Sherlock says he will recount a case not even Dr. Watson knew about — a case that wounded his pride and left him helplessly admiring a woman.
Fans of Arthur Conan Doyle’s original stories will be surprised and intrigued. As written by Doyle, the character is almost completely asexual, and his ego is rarely bruised, so the promise of this unknown tale beguiles. Cahn ups the titillation with his wink-wink delivery. He’s feigning calm, but he’s clearly excited by his secret.
So what follows the set-up? Thirty minutes of unrelated backstory about Holmes’ boyhood violin lessons, his college years and his amateur acting career. These aimless anecdotes are likely meant to explain how Holmes developed his enormous pride, but they only divert from the matter at hand.
Meanwhile, Cahn’s perf flattens into knowing grins, contented sighs and an inconsistent British accent. Rather than reveal new layers of his character, he reduces him to the generic postures of colonial smugness.
When the show returns to its promised intrigue, the energy has died. Though he plays several more characters — including the shadowy lady and the businessman who’s trying to destroy her life — Cahn sticks with superficial gestures. It’s hard to get seduced by a femme fatale when her only move is a hand on the hip.
And the case hardly merits attention. A basic embezzlement scam, its payoff will be predictable to anyone familiar with “Law & Order” episodes about seemingly innocent bumpkins.
Director Eric Parness only muddies the narrative by letting Cahn switch indiscriminately between characters. Accents and movements can be so indistinct that it’s hard to tell who’s speaking.
It’s never clear where characters are speaking, either. Sarah B. Brown’s set is a generic room with a table and chairs — and some inexplicable white sheets draped on the upstage walls — so it’s up to the actor to define the story’s various locations. But the space is so ambiguous that he seems to be standing in a void instead of in specific rooms.
The production’s biggest mystery becomes what is happening on stage.