'Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol'

If you really, really do not wish to see yet another version of Charles Dickens' holiday classic "A Christmas Carol," you may want to rethink. Camelot Theatre Company has a yuletide treat for you.

"Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol," by Seattle playwright John Longenbaugh, is a clever mashup of the Dickens story of misanthropy and redemption and the well-known and eccentric minutiae of the life and times of Victorian England's favorite detective.

In Longenbaugh's witty conceit of a play, replete with Victorian turns of phrase and sinister characters, Sherlock Holmes has returned to London after a three-year absence.

The last trace of Holmes was his hand-to-hand combat on the brink of a waterfall with his nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Moriarty fell to his death but Holmes' fate remained a mystery until he suddenly reappeared at his old flat at 221B Baker Street just before Christmas.

It is a changed Holmes, however. He is rude to his devoted landlady (who, by the way, kept his flat just as he left it despite not being paid rent for three years) and dismissive of the loyal Dr. Watson, accusing him of merely profiting from their friendship. He is bored with solving crimes and disdainful of the petty lives of his fellow Londoners.

In short, Sherlock Holmes has turned into a "bah, humbug" kind of guy.

Over this scenario, Longenbaugh superimposes the structure of Dickens' "A Christmas Carol," replete with ghosts, events of the past, the present and the future, and a feel-good embrace of the true spirit of Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, Holmes is visited by his own particular ghost of Jacob Marley — in this case a chastened Professor Moriarty — who advises him of three subsequent spectral visitors and urges him to reflect on his sour and selfish ways.

As Holmes himself says, "the game is afoot."

Holmes' disdainful façade begins to crack as the First Spirit, a Florence Nightingale sort of nurse, shows him — and us — his lonely childhood and awkward early romance.

Then, a bohemian Second Spirit guides Holmes through the injustices that his present ennui has perpetuated — a clerk falsely accused of a jewel heist and the wrongful imprisonment of Wiggins, the leader of Holmes' band of helpful street urchin informants, known as the Baker Street Irregulars.

The Third Spirit, a sort of diminutive figure of Holmes himself, then reveals Holmes' bitter and ominous future.

In "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol," Holmes, like Scrooge in the Dickens story, reacts to the action on stage, rather than deducing evidence or solving crimes. The fun is in the overlay of Holmes' familiar idiosyncrasies and caustic commentary onto the Dickens plot.

Camelot's production, nimbly directed by Bob Herried, has the good fortune to have Paul R. Jones as the taciturn, detached Holmes, Roy Von Rains Jr. as the concerned Dr. Watson and Presila Quinby as the very practical Mrs. Hudson.

The other actors — 12 in all — play multiple roles, with Barbara Rains playing the earnest First Spirit's guiding nurse, Brian O'Connor the impish Second Spirit and Preston Mead the ominously silent Third Spirit. Ric Hagerman, Stephanie Jones, Billy King, Buzz London, Grant Shepard and Barry Wiedrich play the balance of the 28 character parts.

Don Zastoupil designed Holmes' meticulously detailed Victorian flat, Michael Leon the authentic costumes, Virginia Carol Hudson the wigs and Brian O'Connor the properly sepulchral sound effects.

It is all great fun. By the end of "Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol," Holmes has morphed from misanthrope to a positively giddy Victorian "hail-fellow-well-met," showering bank notes on the worthy and personally delivering hampers of champagne.

Holmes' creator, Arthur Conan Doyle, may not have approved, but then, he probably didn't like Christmas very much either.

"Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Christmas Carol" is at Camelot through Dec. 29. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays and Christmas Eve. Tickets are $25, $23 for seniors and students.

Roberta Kent is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach her at rbkent@mind.net.

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