For its penultimate production before moving to a larger theater on Main Street, Vancouver's family-friendly Magenta Theater chose Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure. Though Rebecca Hoffman's directorial debut at Magenta isn't as austere as its epic moniker, the show is all the better for it's lighthearted take on the classic.
Cobbled together in 1899 by actor William Gillette, The Final Adventure is a new kind of classic. Combining two of Arthur Conan Doyle's most beloved stories ("The Final Problem" and A Study in Scarlet) in order to feature both Holmes' nemesis Professor Moriarty and his love interest Irene Adler, the play was recently given a contemporary gloss by Steven Dietz that emphasizes humor and romance for modern audiences. Though the adaptation was originally set in late 19th century Britain, like the rest of the Holmes canon, Magenta updates the events by 70 years.
This new show starts with a John Barry baseline, 221B Baker Street has groovier furnishings and the Great Detective's familiar greatcoat, cape and deerstalker are replaced with a wardrobe on the threadbare fringe of shagadelic. Stripped of the signature accessories that give him a sheen of antiquity, Holmes seems strangely shabbier. He's also more than a little pathetic. This is an inevitable consequence of transplanting the detective's anachronistic attitudes into a new era. A Victorian gentleman's polite decorum seems like crippling shyness in 1960s swinging London, and when the sleuth whips out a needle to inject himself with cocaine, there's more than a whiff of Withnail in his showy flourish.
It doesn't help that Ryan Thiessen seems thoroughly miscast as Holmes, at first. With easily startled features that recall a young Eddie Bracken and a larger frame than most in his role, Thiessen's Holmes is an unusual sight. But throughout the course of the play, his merits grow. He possesses the necessary authoritarian bearing over Jason White's serviceable Doctor Watson and Andrew Pongratz, who plays Bohemia's young king as a frat pledge dragged to a Palm Beach-themed mixer. Otherwise, Hoffman smartly emphasizes the play's comedy—screwball thieves and frustrated flirtations—so that Thiessen's adorably maladjusted sleuth shines triumphant.
The Final Adventure's Great Detective is really just a good detective. But that's for the best. Given Hollywood's recent obsession with Conan Doyle's stories, any adaptation that tries to be remotely faithful is probably doomed. Instead, reimagining the iconic adventures makes for a vastly more interesting show. As Holmes himself would say: Once you eliminate impossible ambitions, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth.
see it: Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure is at the Magenta Theater, 606 Main St., Vancouver, Wash., 360-635-4358, magentatheater.com. 7:30 pm Wednesday-Saturday, 2 pm Saturday through Oct. 10. $15-$18.