Michael Troy Schell, Craig Nolan Highley, & Andy Szuran in Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Christmas Goose. Photo: Theatre Reprise

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Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Christmas Goose

Adapted by Michael Menendian and John Weagly.
From The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
With a New Bonus Story by Andy Szuran
Directed by Andy Szuran

A review by Keith Waits

Entire contents are copyright © 2023 by Keith Waits. All rights reserved.

Sherlock Holmes may not immediately seem a likely character for a yuletide tale. Still, he did occupy Victorian London which for Americans evokes Charles Dickens, even if The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, the short story upon which this play is based, and A Christmas Carol were published 50 years apart. Anachronism is the chief characteristic of this production.

Playwrights Michael Menendian and John Weagly include a few offhand scenes that are lifted from the classic Dickens, Ebenezer Scrooge and Tiny Tim are both referenced but do not appear on stage, a license with time and place not unknown in Holmes adaptations. Most of the famous Basil Rathbone movies were set in the present day, and Benedict Cumberbatch’s update into modern times is among the most satisfying representations of the character.

Working on a presumably tight budget, there are more than a few clearly contemporary items in the costumes, but what matters the most in any Holmes story is the eccentricity of the problem and watching the World’s Most Famous Detective solve it with indefatigable logic. On that score, Blue Carbuncle is a worthy source and Menedian and Weagly are very faithful to those qualities. An old hat and a stolen Christmas goose with a gem down its throat are at the center of this curious affair.

They are also loyal to Holmes’ misanthropic aspect, avoiding even the most elementary of holiday sentiments in his dialogue. The result is a tidy one-act play that should serve fans of Arthur Conan Doyle and of Christmas.

After an intermission, director Andy Szuran has fleshed out the program with his own story, The Case of the Missing Holmes, in which Holme’s apparent disappearance is addressed by Dr. Watson. It is a bit of a sequel to The Case of the Christmas Goose, mostly a chance for the cast to keep the fun going and deliver more value to the audience. 

This not being a “major” Conan Doyle story – there is no murder here – the production doesn’t pretend to be anything but a light-hearted holiday entertainment. Craig Nolan Highley is a slightly bemused but still keenly intellectual Holmes, and Michael Troy Schell makes for an affable Dr. Watson, not quite a buffoon but still struggling in Holme’s wake.

The rest of the cast is game but it must be said that cues were often missed or at least tardy. Menedian and Weagly’s jokes would play much better if the timing was sharper. The pace also underscores complicated scene transitions. If the action crackles, no one notices. But Rachel Allen was very funny as Mrs. Oakshott, and Peter Howard gave a very declarative performance as James Ryder. He appeared to be enjoying himself very much.

I found additional anachronism in the incidental music. Being a Star Trek fan I did recognize the pre-show sound as James Horner’s score for Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, which I love, but for me, it failed to set the proper mood. During scene changes, we were treated to several bombastic contemporary recordings of hymns and carols. Seasonably appropriate but also kind of jarring.

Ultimately, if you have a limited appetite for holiday shows, this double bill may be a great choice (except for the music). Theatre can and should be demanding and challenge us, but it can also just be fun, and Arthur Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes are always fun.

Featuring Rachel Allen, Lynda Bradley Arkwright, Amelia Evans, Jack Francis, Jeremy Gutierrez, Craig Nolan Highley, Peter Howard, Owen Kane, Clint M. Nowicke, Michael Troy Shell, Autumn Smith, Deborah Kaye Smith, Andy Szuran, & Janice Walter

Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Goose

November 25, 30, December 1 & 2 @ 7:30 pm
November 26 & December 3 @ 2:30 pm 

Theatre Reprise
Highview Arts Center
7406 Fegenbush Lane
Louisville, KY 40206

Keith Waits is a native of Louisville who works at Louisville Visual Art during the days, including being the host of Artists Talk with LVA on WXOX 97.1 FM / ARTxFM.com, but spends most of his evenings indulging his taste for theatre, music and visual arts. His work has appeared in LEO Weekly, Pure Uncut Candy, TheatreLouisville, and Louisville Mojo. He is now Managing Editor for Arts-Louisville.com.