LANESBORO — If you can guess the ending of “Holmes and Watson,” the new play that opened over the weekend at the Commonweal Theatre, then you’re smarter than either Holmes or Watson.
That would be Sherlock Holmes and his trusty assistant, Dr. John Watson. In this take-off on what is usually referred to as the Holmes canon — the original stories by Arthur Conan Doyle — we are treated to a real brain-teaser of a plot. The responsibility for that lies with playwright Jeffrey Hatcher, who has adapted several Henrik Ibsen plays for the Commonweal.
Suffice to say, Holmes is always going to be more lively than Ibsen, and it’s easy to sense that Hatcher is having a blast stepping into Conan Doyle’s shoes and stumping the audience with this mystery.
The premise is this: Three years after Holmes apparently plunged to his death over Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland, three men turn up at an asylum in Scotland claiming to be Holmes. Watson is summoned to identify the real Holmes.
That bare-bones description merely hints at the twists and turns in Hatcher’s plot, and to say any more would violate the pledge the Commonweal is extracting from those who have seen the play not to reveal the ending.
We can reveal, though, that the three Holmes claimants are Commonweal actors Ben Gorman, Hal Cropp and David Hennessey. Gorman’s assured Holmes seems utterly convincing — too convincing. Cropp’s Holmes is in a straitjacket — a Holmes disguise? And Hennessey’s Holmes is apparently deaf and dumb.
The head of the asylum is played by Eric Lee, with Jeremy van Meter as Watson, trying to puzzle out which Holmes is the real Sherlock. Elizabeth Dunn plays both an asylum matron and a woman who has been traumatized by an attempt on her life.
And Brandt Roberts continues to create, in roles large and small, a menagerie of fascinating characters.
The script has references to characters from the canon stories, and it might be helpful as an audience member to have at least a passing familiarity with who Moriarty, Mycroft, Irene and Mrs. Hudson are.
Then again, Hatcher’s plot is so intricately woven that you’re probably helpless at solving this mystery no matter how much Holmes trivia resides in the recesses of your mind.
Will the real Sherlock Holmes please stand up?
He will, eventually, but not until you’ve admitted to being no match for what Hatcher and the Commonweal have cooked up.