On Theater: Sherlock's on the case again at OCC

If Sherlock Holmes were alive and sleuthing today, he'd probably have a job much like that of Matthew Gray Gubler on TV's "Criminal Minds" — the precocious FBI agent with the eidetic memory, rather than a seasoned Basil Rathbone-type from the 1940s.

Or at least that's how Arthur Conan Doyle's super detective comes across in Orange Coast College's latest production, "The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca," subtitled "An Episode in the Life of Sherlock Holmes."

Adapted from Doyle's original concept by two Canadians, Alden Nowlan and Walter Learning, this version goes out on a limb to defy credibility. Devil worshipers figure marginally in the circuitous plot, which presages the outbreak of World War I by several decades.

Even for a college production, OCC's Sherlock, Steve Quinn, hardly seems dry behind the ears. However, the actor's acumen with his prodigious dialogue is so impressive that the audience has little trouble buying into the stage picture. Quinn makes his point, often a tad too rapidly, with an unquestioned air of confidence.

Where the show, directed by Alex Golson in his swan song at OCC, really hits the mark is with its Professor Moriarity, skillfully interpreted by Myles Warner as a smarmy, sadistic fiend with ties to a Satanic cult that's effectively reducing London's population. Warner renders his "Napoleon of Crime's" villainous logic most credible despite the Swiss cheese plot.

College theater is a learning experience, and the 25-member cast of the show is getting a crash course in English melodrama with this second Sherlock Holmes mystery at OCC in less than a year. Character roles abound and most are interpreted with gusto by the enthusiastic undergrads — not to mention an old timer (David Christmas) who's back in two kooky characterizations.

Particularly impressive is Nina Sharifi as Moriarity's partner in crime, the Contessa, a mega-cruel hottie with a "Phantom of the Opera" facial decoration. Also effective is Danica Houehen as the damsel in distress who'll also turn a few heads — albeit the other way — during her gut-wrenching scene of blood-letting torture.

Matt Timmar enacts the title role of the ostensibly eliminated cardinal with a righteous flourish. Scenery is chewed and swallowed by Katelyn Sonetti as a sour noblewoman with a short fuse. Michael Greening Page has little with which to distinguish himself in his role as Holmes' partner, Dr. Watson.

Set designer David Scaglione has come up with a fine trio of backdrops on a rotating platform, eerily illuminated by Rick Golson's lighting designs. Cynthia Corley's period costumes are effective enough to be recycled for Halloween.

"The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca" may be less of a Victorian escapade than a candidate for Mystery Science Theater 2000, but it's rich in imagination and energy in OCC's Drama Lab Theater.



Auditions for the holiday classic "It's a Wonderful Life" are from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at the Carroll Beek Community Center, 115 Agate Ave. on Balboa Island. It's a half block from the Balboa Ferry entrance. Look for the small park on the right.

All roles are open except for Ma Baily, Aunt Tilly and Mr. Potter. Performers are needed from ages 8 to senior. Resumes and head shots are needed. The show runs Dec. 7 through 9.

TOM TITUS reviews local theater for the Daily Pilot.

If You Go

What: "The Incredible Murder of Cardinal Tosca"

Where: Orange Coast College Drama Lab Theater, 2701 Fairview Road

Costa Mesa

When: Closing performances 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Cost: $10 to $18

Information: (714) 432-5880 or orangecoastcollege.edu

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