With ‘Miss Holmes Returns,’ the chase begins anew
STONEHAM – The remaking of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famed British sleuth Sherlock Homes and his trusty sidekick Dr. Watson into a female duo in April 2018 offered theater-goers at the Greater Boston Stage Company a delightful evening of theater.
“Miss Holmes” by playwright Christopher M. Walsh was a critical success. Why not bring her back for an encore?
Why not, indeed? Led by Marge Dunn, who returns as Sherlock, and returning director Weylin Symes, the world premiere of “Miss Holmes Returns” at the Greater Boston Stage Company through May 8 offers another buffet of delicious, diabolical doings featuring a cadre of well-drawn, interesting characters.
The deductive powers of Dunn as Sherlock are better than ever and at her side is a woman of both letters and medicine, Dr. Dorothy Watson (Shonna Cirone).
Victorian society — as well as the landlord at 221B Baker St., Mrs. Hudson (Cheryl McMahon) – are still aghast at the idea of Sherlock, an avowed feminist and a woman who has been known to both wield a weapon and consort with lowlifes. She also eschewed her given name of Wilhemina, which didn’t make her mother happy.
She is the sister of an influential, imperious, well-off older brother named Mycroft Holmes (Alexander Platt). Mycroft has supported his sister’s adventures and investigations in the past because it suited his needs, but she ends up being on his other side in this case.
Befitting our times and the world we live in, playwright Walsh consciously has woven threads of social justice into his plot. The suspect in two deaths is a nurse named Priya Singh (Shubhangi Kuchibhotia) whom some call a “foreigner,” even if she was born and raised in England. But there are rumblings that the deaths are related to a larger conspiracy, and a shadowy character known simply as “The Professor.”
Importantly, Singh is also an advocate for the repeal of the Contagious Diseases Act, which allowed authorities to take women from the lowest rungs of Victorian society who may or may not have a sexually transmitted disease off the streets, even for just being under suspicion of having such a disease. The men, meanwhile, go scot-free.
Josephine Butler (Emme Shaw) and Olive McGann (Lily Steven) belong to a group advocating for the law’s repeal, and they enlist Holmes and Watson to help clear Singh and solve the case.
Holmes and Watson find help in the unlikeliest of places, such as their friend Inspector Geoffrey Lestrade of Scotland Yard (Joshua Wolf Coleman), a genial sort who is in awe of Sherlock’s skills and agrees to help delay Singh’s arrest while Sherlock and Watson are investigating.
Then there are Mrs. Wiggins (McMahon again) and other members of the knitting society who provide Singh refuge.
The bodies start to pile up, and Sherlock and Watson begin a race against time.
Walsh has a long series of tricks up his sleeve, and everyone is hiding something, most especially Mr. Alexander Worthington (Paul Melendy), an educator with a fondness for botany who aims to get ever closer to Sherlock.
His awkward, goofy approaches make her both concerned and uncomfortable, since dealings with emotions are hardly her strong suit and they threaten to make her take her eye off the ball. Dunn has described her character – who sometimes lapses into a trance-like state — as a “neurotic sociopath” and that pretty much nails it.
The production values are all-important in providing the proper setting.
There’s David Remedios’ mood-setting sound design that reminds us of a dark and deep place where something bad could happen at any moment; Deidre McCabe Gerrard’s grand Victorian costumes, especially her stylish duds for Miss Holmes; Katy Monthei’s detailed and well-conceived set, with plenty of dark corners; and Corey Whitmore’s lighting, which shifts gears abruptly to follow the plot’s twist and turns.
The mystery will eventually be solved, a beloved character or two will find themselves in mortal danger, and Miss Holmes – much to the consternation of her brother – will find for herself another outlet for her energies.
Both GBSC and director Symes have shown a fondness and a facility for handling the mystery/thriller genre in the past with productions such as “Gaslight,” “Strangers on a Train,” and the first “Miss Holmes” and they haven’t let you down here.
Let the chase begin anew!
The Greater Boston Stage Company world premiere production of “Miss Holmes Returns.” Written by Christopher M. Walsh. Directed by Weylin Symes. At the Greater Boston stage Company, 395 Main St., Stoneham through May 8. Greterbostonstage.org.