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Review – The Crucible of Blood

1505350_10200528869418830_1494020826_nIn anticipation of seeing Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre’s production of the Crucible of Blood, I spent the day watching the PBS Sherlock series starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman. What I love so much about that show is how the writers make Sherlock very much his own person, unapologetic for who he is or what he does or how he goes about doing it. Sherlock is a leader, and the rest of the world mere followers. And as I settled down in my seat at the Charity Randall Theatre, I wondered if PICT’s production would produce the same sort of Pied Piper allegiance.

The answer: yes.

And no.

Okay, let me start with the Yes first. The many yes’s about this show. Yes to David Whalen as Sherlock Holmes. Yes yes yes. He was pitch-perfect, his accent impeccable (voice and dialect coach Natalie Baker Shirer did tremendous work), his body language and facial expressions articulating their own impressive narrative. Yes to the way he would explain how exactly he knew where Ms. Irene St. Clair was coming from (no spoilers). Yes to his trusty sidekick Watson, played with stellar wit and charm by Justin R. G. Holcomb. And yes to Ken Bolden as Major Alistair Ross, who morphed from arrogant soldier to a sickly, amoral, deranged wastrel of a man. The transformation was sublime and utterly terrifying. In fact, the entire cast was amazing. Gayle Pazerski as Irene St. Clair was magnificent, Jonathan Visser was just plain fun, and Daryll Heysham as Inspector Lestrade provided a great change of pace. Malcome Madera and Michael Fuller and Luke Halferty rounded out the cast with style and machismo.

And yes to the scenes and lighting and costumes. Johnmichael Bohach (scenic designer), Joan Markert (costume designer)  Jennifer Kirkpatrick (scenic charge artist) and many others made the stage a character all its own. 221B Baker Street never looked so cozy. India in the first act of the play was eerie and shrouded. The whole design was all very sumptuous and immediately transporting. Cleverly staged and moving without a hitch, the sets were genius.

And I cannot, of course, leave out director Matt Torney, who worked impressively with a play by Paul Giovanni. He kept the pacing quick and the characters genuine – even when they were at their most comical.

But now for the No, the one singular no in the entire play. And I must preface it all by letting you know that it’s not a question of talent or skill, for both were very prevalent in this play, but a matter of heart. You see, Sherlock Holmes and the Crucible of Blood was, to me, strictly a play for the brain.

This is such a personal opinion that I wasn’t even sure if I’d include it, because the play is really that good. But for me, I just felt like this particular Sherlock play didn’t have a ton of personal stakes for the title character, which, therefore, made the tension of the piece not as razor-sharp, edge-of-my-seat-suspenseful as I had hoped it would be. Mr. Whalen is a tiger on stage and he uses up every square inch of the boards. I can’t ever forget his blistering performance in Good People. He was visceral and strong and, in my opinion, it was one of the best characters he’s ever created because that character was so thoroughly entrenched in the story. Everything affected this man, every choice every character made always came back to him in some way shape or form. But with Crucible of Blood, clever as the story was, his character is purely a detective for hire.

I think the reason the PBS Sherlock series does so well is because every episode is very personal to Sherlock himself. In The Blind Banker, it’s his best friend Watson’s life in the balance; in The Hound of Baskerville, it’s Sherlock’s mind in question; in Scandal in Belgravia, it’s his very heart on the line. The Crucible of Blood, for all it’s wonderful moments – and there were many in this intricate puzzle – fell a bit short for me. I suppose the best way to say it is like this:

The Crucible of Blood was like opening a gorgeously wrapped ring box only to find that instead of it holding a diamond, it houses a beautiful Tiffany necklace. A piece of jewelry for the brain, not the heart. But hey, it’s still a Tiffany necklace.

The show runs now through December 21st. Tickets are on sale now.

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