A Victorian Christmas: ART’s Sherlock-Scrooge mashup

... oh and robots, so maybe it's a steampunk holiday

Michael Mendelson as Sherlock Holmes/Owen Carey


While the concept seems kitschy, Artists Repertory Theatre’s remount of “Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Christmas Carol” is so filled with Victorian nostalgia and cheer that it’s just crazy enough to work.

The story is predictable enough: Sherlock Holmes has returned to Baker Street after fighting Professor Moriarty to the death and spending several years abroad while all believed him to be dead, too. This bloodshed has shaken him to the core, and he has withdraw from friends, ceased to see clients, ignored his violin, and shut himself up with unsavory experiments— on the whole, he’s utterly disenchanted with society of all kinds.

After nasty fights with his dear compatriot Dr. Watson (Tim Blough) and his caretaker and landlady Mrs. Hudson (Jane Fellows) on Christmas Eve, Holmes is treated to the hauntings of three ghosts (or, rather, two ghosts and a weird furnace robot). You know the drill: After revisiting all the pains and regrets of Christmas past, the tragedies he himself could have prevented in Christmas present and the dooms of Christmas Yet To Come; Holmes is given a new lease on life and a great amount of hope and holiday spirit just in time for Christmas Day.

This mashup is taken up with the best intentions. Playwright John Longenbaugh is an obvious Sherlock fanatic, and he lovingly creates a fully realized character with a tangible past, present and future. His writing style is rich, his wit cutting, and clocking in at just about two hours, there isn’t an extraneous or over-indulgent moment in the script. Associate Director John Kretzu’s direction is clear and effective in his last hurrah at Artists Rep as associate artistic director, and Michael Mendelson plays Holmes’ every crotchety quirk on point. Despite minor lapses in dialect, the cast shines as an ensemble in multiple roles. The sets and costumes are cozy and traditional  and the ghosts are spooky without being cheesy (with the exception of the aforementioned robot).

At times the premise  does feel a little more forced than other renditions of A Christmas Carol (the 1998 film Scrooged is one of my favorites). Are we truly supposed to feel that Holmes’ soul is doomed in the same way as Ebenezer Scrooge’s, “… a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old sinner”? I never quite got there. The deep pit of purgatory doesn’t seem to be looming in the climax of the play, and I wish Kretzu had gone just a little bit darker.

But, if you suspend your disbelief a little, there are some truly fine moments played out onstage. Sherlock isn’t earth shattering, but it touches on the surface of what it means to be human just enough to remind us what this whole yuletide season is all about.

Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Christmas Carol runs through December 30th. Visit the Artists Repertory Theatre website for more information.

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