On Theater: H.B. Playhouse takes on Sherlock's 'final' case

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote "The Final Problem" in 1893, it was intended to rid himself of a problem — his increasingly popular sleuth Sherlock Holmes — and allow him to tackle more serious, if less lucrative, literary pursuits.

It didn't exactly work that way. Other Holmes stories, such as "The Hound of the Baskervilles," came later, proving that you can't keep a good man down, even by killing him — if, in fact, Holmes really died in that waterfall struggle with Moriarty that closes "The Final Problem."

The Huntington Beach Playhouse is quite aware of this and has revived the master detective in its current production "Sherlock Holmes — the Final Adventure," based on Doyle's "The Final Problem" and adapted for the stage by Steven Dietz. It's a tasty morsel for devotees of the mystery genre.

All of the usual suspects (except, curiously, for Inspector Lestrade) are present in this circuitously plotted trip down memory lane, though the playwright takes his sweet time in getting Moriarty involved. With the professor's arrival, the scenario begins to sizzle, if not become completely combustible.

Director Gregory Cohen has assembled a worthy cast to enact this climactic melodrama, aided immensely by set designer Andrew Otero's darkly moody scenic elements. Otero also fashioned the complex period costumes, giving the show a true Victorian look.

Any stage production of a Sherlock Holmes adventure will rise or fall on the strength of its title character, and here the playhouse has an ace in its hole. Ryan Holihan, though a bit short in the tooth for the late-in-life sleuth, nevertheless succeeds admirably in interpreting this world-weary character whose still-razor-sharp deducing skills propel the action.

As Dr. Watson, Holmes' faithful assistant and the narrator of the "Final Adventure," Mitchell Nunn brings a tone of literate authority to his second banana character, traditionally a step or two behind the master in sorting out a problem.

Holmes' Achilles heel, who fans his elusive emotional flames, is the femme fatale Irene Adler, played with a diva's haughtiness by Amber Bonasso. Whether heroine or villainess, Irene is a force to be reckoned with, and Bonasso wrenches the utmost out of this mysterious character.

Professor Moriarty, the self-christened "Napoleon of crime," is given a thoughtful, measured interpretation by Greg Wickes, whose bearing is much like that of Holmes himself. He never basks in his villainy, but carefully plots his moves with discretion and foresight.

As the Bohemian king who hires Holmes to extract him from a tight spot that might threaten his upcoming marriage, Gil Morales provides fine comic relief. Daniel Prosek is effective as a character wearing both good and evil hats.

Letting it all hang out as fringe characters are Alastair James Murden as Moriarty's dull-witted and strong-armed henchman and the fiery Sabrina Zellers doing domestic double duty.

The popularity of the Sherlock Holmes character continues unabated over a century after his birth; another version was staged at Orange Coast College earlier this season. Fans of the genre should be queuing up (as Holmes would say) to share this "final adventure" at the Huntington Beach Playhouse.

TOM TITUS covers local theater for the Independent.



What: "Sherlock Holmes — the Final Adventure"

Who: Huntington Beach Playhouse

Where: Huntington Beach Central Library Theater, 7111 Talbert Ave., Huntington Beach

When: at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays until May 20

Cost: $18 to $20

Call: (714) 375-0696

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