Thursday, December 8, 2011

Theatre review: "The Mask of Moriarty" from Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre for Sunday, 11th December 2011

Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre offers an amusing, splendid-looking entertainment for the holidays, Hugh Leonard’s 1986 send-up of tales of Sherlock Holmes The Mask of Moriarty. The director is Alan Stanford who originated the role of Dr. Watson those 25 years ago. The production looks as if he is trying to resurrect what it might have been back then, rather than create something fresh and vigorous. A heavy pace underlies Stanford’s take as does a lack of inventive style.

Leonard’s script is full of good, silly business and funny, sometimes Oscar-Wildish lines, along with imaginative situations. But, one must consider how best to deliver what’s there, since such a parody in and of itself is not rare; many writers and performers have tried this sort of thing. Actually, though, Leonard’s initial Holmes-Watson dialogue gets things off to a sluggish start with long, basically straight chatter.

Even though most of Stanford’s visual gags work well, he has David Whalen’s Holmes and Martin Giles’ Watson, as well as most other characters, played earnestly rather than comically or broadly. This looks as if Stanford thinks the lines and situations can carry it on their own. Or that the actors, left to their own devices, know what to do, which might explain why James Fitzgerald goes far overboard, milking two roles.

Leonard has created an original story wherein two people are murdered. And, at the same time, Holmes’ evil alter ego, Professor Moriarty, returns from presumed death to haunt Holmes, resurrected with a new face. In time, devilishly clever disguises are devised giving rise to mistaken identities. The rest of the plot is not a lot to be concerned with.

Among Stanford’s strange conceptions, he has the talented, versatile Edward Charles Huff initially, unjustifiably, play Moriarty resembling Frankenstein’s Monster, complete with guttural speech and stomping feet. Equally Stanford has Tony Bingham pointlessly revert to playing the wacky, bent and stumbling Mr. Herring after his real and normal underlying persona has been revealed.

On the plus side, Gianni Downs has created original and clever sets. But you can’t go home savoring the decorations. And speaking of going home, I attended the second post-opening performance in what started out as a nearly full house. But, after intermission, it was clear that some people had left. I imagine that what was happening up there on the stage wasn’t holding them. Alas, poor Sherlock. I knew him. A fellow of potentially infinite jest and most excellent fancy. Where are his jibes now?

The Mask Of Moriarty continues through December 17th in the Charity Randall Theatre in the Stephen Foster Memorial, Oakland. ProArtsTickets: 412/394.3353 or

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