Memorizing his lines on a smart phone, ‘Professor Moriarty’ is looking worse for wear. The brilliant, evil counterpart to Sherlock Holmes, Moriarty’s clothes are torn to tatters—shredded in a plunge off Switzerland’s Reichenbach Falls. In point of fact, he’s a ghost.
Moriarty, played by Rich Wiltshire, and other spirits, portrayed by local actors, haunt fiction’s great detective, Dickens style, in Valley Center Stage’s holiday production, “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol.” The show opens Thursday, Dec. 4, and runs through Dec. 20.
Holmes and Charles Dickens’ Ebenezer Scrooge meld in this show, written by veteran Seattle playwright John Longenbaugh.
After failed attempts by Dr. Watson to cheer Holmes into celebrating the holiday season, the unrepentant, ill-tempered sleuth is forced to deduce the facts and solve the most important mystery of his life. Holmes is helped in his introspective detective work by three unexpected callers from his past, present and future.
Valley Center Stage regular Brendan Elwood plays the title character.
“It’s kind of a twist,” said Scott Friedman of Snoqualmie, who plays several roles in the show. “It has a little bit of suspense, excitement, stuff that people can relate to from two great stories.”
“It’s an allegory about how important people are in one’s life,” says North Bend actor Rene Schuchter, who plays Dr. Watson, Holmes’ down-to-earth sidekick. “When people care about you, that’s meaningful—and not to throw it away.”
Valley actor Craig Ewing was part of the reading group that met this summer to choose the season’s new shows.
“This is one, out of all that we read, that jumped out the most,” he said of ‘Sherlock.’ So chances are good that the Valley’s Holmes fans will be intruiged.
Board member “Fred Rappin and I were the postering people,” hanging flyers before the show, Ewing said. “We did all of North Bend, Snoqualmie and the Ridge. We’d go into various places. People see Sherlock Holmes, and some of them light up, because they’re Holmes fans. When we tell them it’s a mashup of Sherlock Holmes and ‘A Christmas Carol,’ they are especially curious.”
Valley Center Stage’s downtown North Bend performance hall, on the second floor of a cycle shop, is intimate, with about 100 seats. Actors last week were in dress rehearsal for the holiday show, memorizing lines in a green room made up of the dining area and kitchen of the North Bend Masonic hall.
“This theater has been a home theater for me,” says Schuchter, a North Bend actor who has appeared in Valley Center Stage’s previous “Christmas Carol,” in “The Foreigner,” and at Snoqualmie’s tiny Black Dog stage.
At Valley Center Stage, it’s all about “What can you do on the head of a pin?” said Schuchter. “It’s amazing what happens.”
Schuchter has been studying the Holmes tales, trying to understand his character’s place in the genre.
“Who is Watson, actually? It’s a combination. He’s a straight man, a foil, but he’s also a balance, emotionally, to Holmes. Watson is a grounding presence.”
Some of the actors and actresses appearing in “Sherlock” have been doing community theatre for years. Some are just newcomers. Others are kids.
Rachel Friedman, 10, has appeared in “Wind in the Willows,” “Paul Sill’s Story Theater,” and as ZuZu in last Christmas’s “It’s a Wonderful Life.”
She likes acting. Her latest challenge is to appear as a boy character named Eli.
“It’s a bit difficult. I have to walk a little weird and act different. My posture is different. If I move my hands in a weird way, it gives away that I’m a girl. I have to put my hair up,” and make sure it doesn’t get out from under Friedman’s flat cap.
“This is an amazing family,” says actor Ed Benson, who plays Inspector Lestrade. “People who come in become family. We’re very lucky in getting some new folks, who come all the way from Seattle.”
Benson, by day a social worker, calls community theater his true vocation. A mainstay at Valley Center Stage, he was in the original Christmas Carol production, which ran here for eight years.
One of those Seattle newcomers is Michael Renny, who plays the Second Spirit, embodied in a foppish, Oscar Wilde-esque character. “I’m all over the place, I have a cape, wig and hat,” says Renny. He’s been traveling all over the country doing theater. Shadowing Center Stage executive director Gary Schwartz, he was asked to audition to boost the male cast.
Seattle actress Mary Sheehan plays Holmes’ long-suffering housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson. She commutes to North Bend three or four times a week for rehearsals, and calls it “great fun.”
A Conan Doyle fan, Sheehan loves the stories, which date from 1887 to 1914.
“I’ve read a lot of those stories,” she said. “I love the Jeremy Brett series from the 1990s. Those episodes could be lifted verbatim” from Doyle’s written tales.
• Get tickets for Valley Center Stage’s Dickens-Doyle holiday play at www.valleycenterstage.com. Showtimes are at 7:30 p.m., with a 2 p.m. matinee on December 20.
The cast of ‘Sherlock’: From left are Mary Sheehan, Becky Steidle, Brandon Comouche, Allie Lester, Rene Schucter, Tavis Medina, Ed Benson, Brenden Elwood, Rich Wiltshire, Rachel Friedman, Craig Ewing, Scott Friedman, Dylan Cook, Julie Lester, and Michael Renny.
Snoqualmie family Rachel and Scott Friedman take the stage as Dickensian characters.
Seattle actor Michael Renny as a dandyish, Wilde-inspired ‘Second Spirit.’