The Sign of the Four at City Lit Theatre | Theater review
Terry McCabe’s new Sherlock Holmes adaptation gets mired in fealty to Doyle’s text.
In adapting literary work for performance, it’s tempting to keep as much original text as possible. Unfortunately, despite the satisfaction provided by a well-delivered, sly turn of phrase or two, McCabe’s script is heavily weighted with the burden of Doyle’s words. There’s potential in the opening sequence: Dr. Watson (Bloom) looks on with a peculiar brand of disinterested concern while Sherlock Holmes (Bender) staves off boredom by injecting himself with cocaine. This apparently thrice-daily routine is interrupted by the arrival of an anxious young woman (Tucker), who asks the pair to investigate anonymous gifts and a letter she’s received proclaiming her to be a “wronged woman.”
The mystery plot remains interesting, but it unfolds so steadily and protractedly that it often feels close to running out of gas. Though Bloom and Bender are well matched, their understated and nonchalant energies ultimately compound the pacing issue (as does Devin Carroll’s moody lighting). The rest of McCabe’s eclectic cast perks things up as much as possible; Drew Longo is especially fun as rich, eccentric Bartholomew Sholto, as is Judy Lea Steele in a variety of ensemble roles. Greg Kolack has a strong presence as Jonathan Small, but he’s stuck shouldering possibly one of the longest stories ever recounted onstage, revealing the history behind the mystery for what is undoubtedly pages upon pages…upon pages. Doyle’s layered story may work on paper, but here, it’s mired in narration, exposition and an incessant need to tie up every loose end with an army-grade knot and lead bow.