I grew up loving mysteries. I've watched countless hours of Perry Mason episodes, read dozens of Nancy Drew books and worked my way through John Grisham novels, Henning Mankell dramas and am still easily drawn into a good hour-long CSI.
Through it all, good ol' Sherlock has always been one of my favorite crime-solving protagonists. With a couple of recent Holmes' movies and three Sherlock shows running concurrently on television (one re-run and two new), we are clearly a culture obsessed with this fictional detective created by author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
But why? Obviously, we like that he takes the unexplained and scary and makes it reasonable and straightforward. After all, the only thing better than a mystery is a mystery solved. But it's his timeless panache and charisma that bring us back to Holmes again and again.
Happily, Taproot Theatre also feels the magic of Holmes and has brought their popular production, Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol, back for a second year. As in Dickens' classic tale, the main character, in this case a morose and solitary Sherlock, is visited by three diverse spirits who aim to save him from an unpleasant prophesied end.
Holmes, freshly returned from a mysterious three-year disappearance has successfully estranged himself from his many acquaintances, friends and colleagues, including his own biographer and best friend, Dr. Watson. As the spirits work their magic, Sherlock remains determined to apply logical thinking to every display of holiday emotion and moment of yuletide generosity. And as we, the audience, know, those occurrences often defy explanation.
Without changing the set, the talented cast whisks us between Baker Street and many places in Holmes' past, present and future. We are taken into a war, a party, the London slums and a country estate with a few simple steps around the stage. As we learn about Sherlock with the introduction of each new vignette, so too does he learn about his own character and humanity.
My 8-year-old loved the goosebumps she got when Jacob Marley made his appearance. Smoke and voice amplification added spookiness to the moment, but she was even more impressed at the "magic" involved with the candlestick on the mantle. Deep discussions were had about that incident during intermission, but I cannot say more; you'll simply have to see it for yourselves.
Taproot's theater itself is one of my favorites. The room is long and narrow, which provides for seating along three sides of the stage, giving each production more of a theater-in-the-round feel. A glass-walled balcony provides excellent visibility and increases the capacity while still retaining the intimacy. Basically, there is not a bad seat in the house. The play is appropriate for ages 8 and up, runs for 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission, and snacks and drinks are sold in the lobby both before the show and during the break.
At this point, I would normally tell you where to go, when to be there and how much to pay, but there is more. For 16 years, Taproot Theatre has produced a Christmas Showcase with student actors. This year, they are kicking things up a notch and will be performing on the Taproot Theatre main stage with their very own 45-minute version of events in Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol Jr.
The cast, kids between the ages of 9 and 13, has been diligently rehearsing since October and I was lucky enough to sneak a peek at one of their classes. The kids were prepared, excited, supportive, professional and engaging. Dr. Watson even lost a tooth during the rehearsal and it barely slowed them down. Moriarty is fabulous, the Sherlocks (two kids share the part) are diligently quirky, and the young Sherlock reminded me of Macaulay Culkin a la Home Alone. This is going to be a show (and there is only one show) not to miss.
IF YOU GO
Where: Taproot Theatre, 204 N. 85th St., Seattle.
When and Cost: Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol, now through Dec. 29, $29-37. Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol Jr., Dec. 17 7-8 p.m., FREE.
Contact: 206-781-9707, www.taproottheatre.org.
Erika Lee Bigelow lives in Seattle and is constantly playing detective for her three kids and their missing toys, socks, jackets, etc…