An Homage to Sherlock Holmes
Who better than Lifeline, with their focus on literary adaptation, to take on a feminist adaptation of Sherlock Holmes? In Miss Holmes, all the familiar characters are there: Inspector Lestrade, Holmes’ enigmatic brother Mycroft, a wealthy dowager in distress, and even Sherlock’s arch-nemesis Professor Moriarty makes a brief appearance. (Though he is not named, any Holmes fan will know instantly who the menacing figure in the top hat is.) The big difference here, however, is that Holmes and Watson are both women, and not just women playing male characters, but women in the very male-dominated society of 19th century London.
The dynamic that emerges suits the themes of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s oeuvre, dealing as it does with a vigilante detective working outside of the establishment. Holmes’ status as an “illegitimate” detective is heightened by the gender play—not only is Miss Holmes working outside the law, but she is doing so as a woman in an era where women are more often found writing letters in drawing rooms than on the streets of London fighting crime. Though the play hammers home the theme of propriety and the place of women, it ends up being less about gender than one might expect, and more about paying homage to the tropes of the beloved series. One might view this is a missed opportunity or simply as a writer letting Holmes do what she does best: outfox villains with her savant-like deductive powers. There are many subtle and not-so-subtle cues in the staging as to the feminist themes, such as Dr. Watson going from wearing dresses at the beginning of the play to pants and boots by the end, or one particular scene where a hand lingers over-long in a way that could be taken as homoerotic. By the end of the show, however, the novelty of a female Holmes faded, at least for me, and I was instead trying to figure out “whodunit” while tracking an intricate, sometimes even labyrinthine, plot. A side plot toward the end, though providing some welcome humor, ended up making the second-half feel a bit over-long. That said the ending did not fail to surprise, as any good detective story should, while at the same time emphasizing the point that sometimes being underestimated can work to one’s advantage.
Katie McLean Hainsworth a Forceful Holmes
Katie McLean Hainsworth is a relentless Sherlock Holmes, and brings a forcefulness and insistence to the role which does justice to Doyle’s character. The evening I attended, Dr. Watson was ably portrayed by understudy Jhenai Mootz, so I cannot comment on the all-important chemistry between the two leading women in the regular cast.
Any fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle will want to see Miss Holmes for its smart take on the famous detective, and to discover for themselves how two women fit into the otherwise very masculine world of Sherlock Holmes.
Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N Glenwood Ave, Chicago
Now - Nov. 27, Thu & Fri at 7:30pm, Sat at 4pm & 8pm, Sun at 4pm
(No performance Nov. 24. No 4pm matinees Nov. 19 and 26)
Call Box Office at 773 761 4477 or visit the Lifeline website.
This review was excerpted by Theatre in Chicago.