The Mask Of Moriarty
Jeffrey T. Heyer''s performance as Sherlock Holmes is the real reason to see this play.
Thursday, July 22, 1999
Heyer''s arch delivery and wry self-assurance fit perfectly as the famous super-sleuth. This, combined with Heyer''s masterful ability to mold a joke and time a punchline, to raise an eyebrow just enough, and give us just the right hint of a knowing smirk, make this performance Heyer''s comic tour de force.
Heyer is, in fact, the real reason to see this show, which is otherwise overly long and talky, and only moderately funny.
This play is aimed squarely at die-hard fans of the murder mystery genre, whose number, it must be admitted, exclude this reviewer. In the end, I usually don''t care whodunit, and the super-sleuth, Holmes being its most conspicuous exemplar, has always struck me as being one set of X-ray eyes and a sensitivity to kryptonite short of comic book fodder.
But the genre remains extremely popular. So the question for Leonard here is how to lampoon something that itself borders on spoof when played straight. The task seems almost too simple, what with Holmes'' oft-parodied ability to, for instance, tell you the exact time of day a tobacco leaf was picked from what exact region and whether the person who picked it was nicknamed "Bruno" and what he had for breakfast that morning, just by sniffing some day-old cigar ash. So, that''s what Leonard gives us.
Under Richard Kuhlman''s direction, it''s all played very broadly, as if the whole cast were acutely aware of how silly they''re being, which takes a while to get used to. Sometimes, this kind of screwball comedy is better played straight, letting the bizarreness of the situation speak for itself. The frantic pace here grows wearisome, and with a playing time of just over two-and-a-half hours, the overall effect verges on tedium.
Still, it''s not all silliness. There are plenty of moments of genuine cleverness and a good number of laughs. One subplot, for instance, involves a McGuffin Device >(a la Alfred Hitchcock). Holmes must secure the plans for some powerful new machine that could be used to conquer the world, which is aptly named after its inventor, the McGuffin Device. Get it?
In another plot twist, and there are many, Holmes'' arch-nemesis Moriarty turns out not to be quite dead after all. Holmes informs Watson, through a series of visual aids that includes a puppet show, that Moriarty was not killed after all in his thought-to-be-fatal fall, but was saved with the help of a thought-to-be-mythical bird called a Roc ("He hit his head on a Roc," Holmes informs us. Get it?) Moriarty reappears again to wreak havoc and spread general nastiness after undergoing extensive facial reconstruction that leaves him looking exactly like...Well, let''s just say that Heyer and the actor billed as playing Moriarty, one Leoalan Rathe, bear a striking resemblance.
There were a few opening night technical glitches with some of the special effects not working exactly right, and Heyer himself got off to a bumpy start when a door knob popped off in his hand moments after a hastily placed violin crashed to the floor in his opening scene.
Other standout performances are Jim McLean as Watson, Michael Mertz in various roles, and J. Nicholas Hurley as Herring (who has red hair, get it?). Jani Davis as an American (in the play''s actual murder subplot) stands out a bit too much, being way over the top, as does Scott Harrison in various roles.