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Theater Preview | Tufts senior adapts beloved Holmes stories to stage

'Baker Street Adventures' emphasizes on character dynamics over mysteries.

Published: Friday, November 7, 2008

Updated: Friday, November 7, 2008 12:11

Breathing new life into an old mystery, "Sherlock Holmes: Baker Street Adventures" offers a glimpse into the twisted mind of the well-known detective. Adapted by senior Matthew Diamante, who also directs the show, from the writings of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the narrative hinges on interactions between characters rather than the detective's ability to solve puzzles.

"People tend to associate Holmes with mysteries, but they are really adventures," Diamante said. "I chose the ones where we really see the bond between Holmes and Watson. Those are the strongest stories."

Though not mysteries in the traditional sense, the chosen scenes are suspenseful and clever, and the characters are sharply rendered and captivating to watch. The audience sees Holmes in his arrogant aloofness, ordering Watson around and vainly announcing his deductions at the end of each scene. Viewers also experience his questionable ethical code and blind righteousness when he declares that "the action is technically criminal, but morally justifiable" upon breaking into someone's home.

Watson serves his purpose by grounding Holmes in reality. Though Watson does not contradict Holmes directly, the audience hears his true opinions in sharply delivered narratives, which reveal Holmes as a cocaine addict who does not care if the Earth revolves around the moon or the sun.

A dedicated Sherlock Holmes fan, Diamante read all 56 short stories in preparation for the play and spent the first few rehearsals discussing the history of Holmes with the actors. "I consider Holmes one of the immortals ... and any time is a good time to visit the immortals," he said.

Diamante envisioned specific characters for Holmes and Watson, including their mannerisms and motivations. His vision came across in his minutely specific stage directions: "No smirking. Smirking has a cruel edge to it; just bemusement."

Cast member Katia Porzecanski, a senior, spoke of the difficulty of fitting their characters into Diamonte's vision. "Every reader sees the character in their own way ... We all had our own ideas," she said.

The approach proves successful, as the audience consistently sees Holmes' passion for logic and struggle to both justify his actions and use them to amaze others. "Observation with me is second nature," Holmes says egotistically as he lays out the process of yet another of his clever conclusions.

Diamante calls the show Shakespearian in execution, with rapid scene changes and a minimalist quality. "The minimalism of the production allows for freedom of design," he said.

To that end, the cast works together to place the audience in Holmes' world, using simple techniques like spinning navy umbrellas to simulate a taxicab.

The six-person cast rotates between the introduction and each of the two scenes, allowing several actors to take on the roles of Watson and Holmes. While the actors agreed this technique made their roles more challenging, most spoke to its advantages.

"We all work together in creating the world," sophomore Sarah Taveres said.

"It adds an improvisation feel; the play is more action-orientated," added sophomore Alex Cook.

"It was interesting to see how the others played the characters," responded senior Harry Waksberg.

The effect is successful. Though the actors change between the scenes, the characters do not. Everybody takes possession of their current character and plays the role with due authority. Each scene shows Holmes lost in his own adventure, putting himself in situations to test his own intellect and taking the audience along for the ride.

"Sherlock Holmes" will be performed Monday, Nov. 10 at the Balch Arena Theater. Admission is free.

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