The Blue Carbuncle with Sherlock Holmes/The Gift of the Magi
nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
December 6, 2007
The WorkShop Theater gives a cheerful alternative to bombast or treacle in these two charming adaptations of holiday classics. Despite a slightly rocky start with an ersatz cabaret, this production moves on in short order to deliver genuinely amusing and fine versions of holiday classics to enjoy and celebrate the season.
The initial musical moment consists of eight contemporary holiday songs that are well performed and given much more than they deserve (Tom DelPizzo is especially enjoyable with his gleeful paean to snow) as the tunes themselves are not destined to become classic regardless of the appeal of their singers. Happily these are quickly followed by a lovely version of O. Henry's "Gift of the Magi" that is well served by the talents of Andrew Joffe's adaptation. Bringing O. Henry onstage (with a delightful characterization by Richard Kent Green) is a welcome enrichment of the storytelling and his commentary, which follows Delia (Jodie Bentley imbues this part with real charm) through her holiday frenzy to find the perfect gift, actually does underscore giving as the most important part of a gift. Director Kathleen Brant has her cast move about a fairly compact space, skillfully filling in the picture of old New York and ensuring that they give the characters full measure of humanity as well as humor. Solid, sincere playing of the other parts by Tyler Hollinger as husband Jim, Kate Andres as Madame Sofronie, and Jon Lonoff as the salesman, complete the story. It is deceptively simple to watch, hiding extremely well done technique—much like the original story.
The adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle" is equally a delight. This particular tale follows the detection of how a rare blue carbuncle ends up in the crop of a Christmas goose. Paul Singleton and Todd Butera are admirable as Holmes and Watson, both taking on these iconic roles wholeheartedly yet with a little affectionate send-up on the side. Singleton portrays Sherlock Holmes with an icy Jeremy Brett-like reserve that he slyly undercuts with various noble far-off looks of an ilk that would make Burt Lancaster jealous. His ego and intellectual feats do not exempt him from human foibles such as loneliness, and here they occur at just the right level to be believable yet not overdone. Far from being a dismissible buffoon, Butera's Dr. Watson is a comfortable man of warmth with the true gift of patience for a friend's idiosyncrasies. While by no means possessing the brilliance of his detective friend, this Watson is an estimable man in his own right and a true partner for Holmes. To watch them as they go about London questioning all, from goose wholesalers to industrious housewives to hapless villains (well played respectively by Bruce Barton, Kelly Campbell, and Michael Gnat), is an enjoyable romp.
Throughout both pieces are beautiful bits of carol singing and violin (Ken Linsk, who also does double duty as the hapless ex-con mistakenly accused in "Blue Carbuncle"), and the set itself is wisely designed by Stefani Oxman to enhance the sense of space and mood. Lauren Duffie's lighting design adds in a charming touch of footlights. All in all, these are captivating Christmas tales, comfortable and worthwhile to curl up with and well done by the Workshop Theater Company.