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The Sign of the Four

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The Sign of the Four, Apple Tree Theatre. This new adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1890 Sherlock Holmes mystery is credited to "Dr. Shanghai Low"--the collective nom de plume of writers Steve Pickering (who also directs), Charlie Athanas, and Kevin Theis. Perhaps this explains the show's divided intentions--part campy spoof, part straight-ahead thriller, part revisionist critique of racism and cultural supremacism in Victorian Britain. (The macabre plot, involving stolen treasure and murder by blow dart, stems from a blood oath among three Sikhs and a disgruntled English soldier in occupied India.)

The final product is intelligent, nicely designed, sometimes entertaining, but ultimately unsatisfying. Effective moments include a gag about Holmes's landlady rushing up- and downstairs in response to Sherlockian summonses and a running bit about comrade-chronicler Dr. Watson scribbling notes on the case for his next novel. (Holmes calls Watson his "Boswell," a reference that went over the heads of several audience members I spoke to.) But the handling of other key elements--among them Holmes's cocaine habit and a cops-and-robbers boat chase--is cluttered and confusing.

With his high forehead and aquiline nose, Michael Grant looks the part of Holmes but fails to dominate the action, and there's little connection between him and Joe Forbrich as Watson. The intense, subtle Larry Neumann Jr. makes the climactic confession of a peg-legged miscreant, played to the hilt, the show's high point. What a Holmes he would be.

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