Arthur Conan Doyle was a famous British writer, who wrote hundreds of novels, short stories, poems, and historical books, but is most remembered for creating probably, the most popular and widely read detective hero, Sherlock Holmes. His play, “The Speckled Band,” has just opened at the Walnut Street Theatre .Well, it’s not exactly his play, but rather a new adaptation by Bill Van Horn, and it is a blast.
The world premiere, which has over 30 characters is being is performed by six amazing actors who change roles and costumes, as we sit in awe at their versatility. As for Van Horn’s script, it is not just the traditional unraveling of a mystery, but rather an almost farce-like presentation of the events surrounding a murder that begins the tale.
A young woman has died mysteriously. Her sister, afraid that she might be the next victim, enlists the services of the great detective, Sherlock Holmes via Dr. Watson, who is her friend.
Dr. Watson, played by the writer/director Van Horn, steps into a spotlight with asides to the audience, to give us background information, as a fist person narrator. Then, there are quick jumps to the action, and there’s plenty of it. There are so many wonderfully funny, Marx Brothers-like slapstick moments that will keep you laughing, despite its macabre story.
Sherlock Holmes is played with panache by the talented Ian Merrill Peakes. Both Van Horn and Peakes play other roles but I suggest you wait until the intermission before you see who’s playing whom. Unlike most fairy tales, where the bad person is often the evil stepmother, here, it is Dr. Rylott, the evil stepfather.
This production of “Speckled Band” is the kind of play that could be performed on a big or small stage (if you forget for a moment the beautiful sets that the Walnut always creates) because it is so intimate. You feel like you’re a fly on the wall, in the room with the characters.
Van Horn has written and adapted many plays for the Walnut’s Studio Theatre. Kudos to Walnut’s Producing Artistic Director, Bernard Havard, for commissioning Van Horn to take on this Sherlock Holmes play, originally produced in 1910. It is a classic that has been seamlessly contemporized and is a play for all ages. Most of all, it is a fun night in the theater.
“The Adventure of the Speckled Band” by Bill Van Horn based on the play by Arthur Conan Doyle. Thru March 27, 2022. Walnut Street Theatre, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia, PA 19107. WalnutStreetTheatre.org 215-574-3550