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The game is afoot: a fresh spin on Sherlock Holmes

Bob Davis, left, plays Dr. Watson, and Steve Hendrickson is Holmes in Park Square Theatre's "Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure."
Photo by Petronella Ytsema
Bob Davis, left, plays Dr. Watson, and Steve Hendrickson is Holmes in Park Square Theatre’s “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.”

Steve Hendrickson has been preparing for his latest role since sixth grade.

That’s when the actor — who has worked extensively in the Twin Cities and is an artistic associate with Ten Thousand Things Theater — first read Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes adventures. Later in junior high, he met a kindred spirit and the two amused themselves in a unique way. “Each day at lunch, we’d each write a Holmes parody. Then we’d exchange them in study hall.”

So, yes, Hendrickson has done the homework — and then some — to play the master detective in Park Square Theatre‘s production of “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure.” Playwright Steven Dietz has adapted the play, originally crafted by Doyle and actor William Gillette in 1899. It includes bits and pieces of a number of adventures (most significantly “A Scandal in Bohemia” and “The Final Problem”) along with original material.

The work, which won the 2007 Edgar Award for best mystery play, tightens and cleans up the original, Hendrickson says. The work, though not part of the official canon, also helped to define the look of Holmes. For example, Holmes’ long, curved pipe was first used by Gillette “so the pipe wouldn’t hide his face on stage,” Hendrickson says.

The closest of friends
The show also includes Holmes’ longtime confidant and best friend, Dr. John Watson (played by Bob Davis), and, naturally enough, Holmes’ great foil, Professor James Moriarty (played by Jim Cada).

Davis avoided the many film adaptations that have portrayed the good doctor as a bumbling fool. The man, Davis notes, was a medical doctor and a war hero (famously injured in Afghanistan, either in the shoulder or leg, depending on the story) who became Holmes’ only friend.

“The play has a proper depiction of Watson — someone of supreme loyalty and patience,” Hendrickson notes. “He would have to be to put with the eccentricities of Sherlock Holmes.”

For many readers (including this faithful fan dating to fifth grade), that relationship is as important as the detective stories surrounding it. The men live large enough in the imagination where it is possible to wonder where they would have ended up without each other. Watson was a wreck after returning from war. Holmes had his intense and single-minded personality, not to mention a cocaine addiction. “I imagine Holmes would have ended up burned out or dead without Watson,” Hendrickson says.

The play intensifies the relationship between Holmes and Irene Adler (referred to as “the woman” in her one appearance in “A Scandal in Bohemia”) and also puts Moriarty — “the Napoleon of Crime” who only showed up in a pair of stories — more in the center as a nemesis.

In Cada’s mind, Moriarty is akin to Batman’s Joker — an arch nemesis for the hero. That, mixed with the then new idea of organized crime, must have made the character live large in the minds of readers. The idea of organized crime “must have been terrifying for the Victorians,” Cada says.

Interpretations aside, the actors (under the guidance of director Peter Moore) face other challenges in the show. “There is a lot of exposition and a lot of talk, so our task is to keep the show going,” Hendrickson says.

Much of this falls to Davis, as Watson — naturally enough — serves as the show’s narrator. “I want to make sure I don’t lag in my pace, but you can’t go so fast or you will lose the audience,” he says.

What: “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure”
When: May 30-June 22
Where: Park Square Theatre, Historic Hamm Building, 20 W. Seventh Place, St. Paul
Cost: $18-$36
Phone: 651-291-7005
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