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U students as characters Sherlock Holmes and Liza Moriarty

University of Minnesota students Christopher Kehoe and Elizabeth Grullon as Sherlock Holmes and Liza in Sherlock's Last Case.

Sherlock and Watson on the Showboat

By Pauline Oo

July 18, 2007

When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle killed off Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem, readers the world over demanded his resurrection. In 1903 Doyle brought the fictitious pipe-smoking detective back in The Adventure of the Empty House. And so began the string of contemporary creations that have prolonged Holmes's life and adventures. The play Sherlock's Last Case is one such example, and it's the University of Minnesota Showboat Players' offering this summer.

Full of surprises and twists, as well as creepy music and the occasional gunshot, Sherlock's Last Case revolves around a death threat against everybody's favorite sleuth by the supposed son of his late nemesis, Professor Moriarty. Charles Marowitz, a former theater critic for the now-defunct Los Angeles Herald Examiner, wrote the play in 1984, and his story cleverly digs for humor in Holmes's persona and attempts to fill in some blanks in the long-standing Holmes-Watson partnership. Stephen Kanee, University of Minnesota professor emeritus of theatre arts and dance, directs the showboat version.

The lanky Christopher Kehoe does a convincing job playing the piercingly intelligent, bitingly arrogant, and cocaine-addicted Holmes. The University student's Cheshire cat grin shows just how much the ace detective loves his nasty habit. It's hard to fully like this persnickety character with the cultured British accent--kudos to Kehoe--because Holmes is rude to his housekeeper Mrs. Hudson (a bubbly Elizabeth Griffith), dismissive of Scotland Yard's inspector Lestrade (Chris Peltier) and downright demeaning to his stalwart friend and sidekick Dr. John Watson (Stuart Gates).

Watson, by comparison, is good-natured and lovable. So, it's hard not to wonder when watching the show, why Watson has been so loyal to Holmes. Sherlock's Last Case is the playwright's attempt to answer that question. U student Gates, in a fully ranged performance, does well as the respectable doctor "who never gets it quite right"--only because Holmes is so far in front.

Another character worth noting is Liza a.k.a Eliza Moriarty. Elizabeth Grullon is as dramatic a seductress as Kehoe/Holmes is narcissistic. Grullon is in her vixen best--and wearing a gorgeous maroon lace and embroidered taffeta gown--when she calls on Holmes in Act 1 to warn him that his life is in danger.

Did you know?

The Minnesota Centennial Showboat and its 220-seat, Victorian-style, jewel box theater is a training ground for University of Minnesota students, who are paid competitively for their work as actors, managers, and designers. The boat is owned and operated through a public/private partnership between the University of Minnesota and the Padelford Packet Boat Company.

Sherlock's Last Case begins in September 1897 and ends fourteen months later in November 1898 on Guy Fawkes' Day--and the whole story unfolds on stage in just two places: Holmes's well-known 221B Baker Street sitting room and a musty cellar. Erin Huntly, who is working toward her master's degree in design and technology, designed the excellently detailed sets. (While her fellow graduate student Katrina Benedict was responsible for the realistic Victorian dresses and long men's frock coats.)

Unlike any other show in town, a University Showboat performance is just plain fun because you can boo and hiss--as loud as you possibly can or want to. The "olios" are the other unique feature. Those vaudeville-like vignettes between each scene offer respite from dialogue and allow you to see how truly talented these University student actors are. Yes, they can act, but watch out, they can also sing and dance. This season's olios, with titles such as "The Buskers of Bow Street" and "A Scottish Highland Fling," are written and directed by professor emeritus Vern Sutton.

Tickets for Sherlock's Last Case are between $19 and $22, with discounted $16 tickets on select dates (July 19, 20, 24, 26, and 31 and August 2, 3, 7, 8, 9, and 10). Evening performances are 8 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays; matinee performances are 2:30 p.m. Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. To buy your ticket, call the Padelford Packet Boat Co. at 651-227-1100 or see University of Minnesota Showboat.

More on Sherlock Holmes

If you're a Sherlock Holmes fan, don't miss "Victorian Secrets and Edwardian Enigmas: The Riddles of the Rooms of 221B Baker Street." This University of Minnesota Libraries exhibit includes renderings of Sherlock Holmes' famous sitting room at 221B Baker Street in London and other materials from the U's Sherlock Holmes Collections. The free exhibit runs through August 20 at Elmer L. Andersen Library on the Twin Cities campus in Minneapolis.