By Charlene Baldridge
In Solana Beach Saturday, Jan. 16, North Coast Repertory Theatre presented the world premiere of a thoroughly mysterious and original play with music. It’s titled “Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Great Nome Gold Rush.”
Written lock, stock and gun barrel by Joseph Vass (“Words by Ira Gershwin”), directed by Artistic Director David Ellenstein, and featuring a company of fine actors mostly of the area, the wild and wooly work concerns connected murders, one in London, England, and the other in Nome, Alaska. Each was committed to obtain the deed to the same gold mine at the time of the Nome Gold Rush circa 1900.
The problem confronting Holmes, the intrepid private investigator (played by Jason Maddy), and his equally intrepid assistant, Dr. John Watson (Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper), is that the man convicted in London is innocent (they are convinced the murderers are the same person), and unless they solve the murder in Nome, the convict in London will be executed. So, off they go.
The first to arrive at Nome’s Dexter Hotel & Gambling Saloon, owned by Wyatt Earp (a panache-filled Richard Baird), is Watson, who early on ingratiates himself with the recently arrived Charlotte (Katie Karel), a singer who thinks she has claim via widowhood to the mine.
Also recently arrived are the piano player (Louis Lotorto) and a violinist (how long does it take to figure out this is Holmes in disguise?). Jacquelyn Ritz plays Earp’s wife, Josephine, and John Diaz, John Tessmer and Andrew Barnicle portray other locals.
The nine actors play a total of 13 characters on both sides of the big pond, so part of the mystery is a who’s who, but Holmes, somewhat more appealing a human than usual, and Watson dope it out, even though some audience members may feel more than a bit left in the dust.
Additional writing work may be needed, though Vass has certainly done his historical research. It’s interesting to note that Earp and Josie ran a number of saloons and gambling halls in San Diego prior to moving to Nome.
As for Mr. Vass’s music, it is particularly suited to the period, though a few modern chord progressions do seep in. Charlotte’s “I’m Gonna Be the Man” is a hit number indeed, with the agile Karel gracing tabletops. The tune that solves the murder is particularly enjoyable and may haunt those driving home, and the “playing” of the piano and violin are almost convincing.
Though there are numerous Nome and London scenes, all are accommodated nicely by Marty Burnett’s kinetic scenic design. Other designers are Matt Novotny, lighting; Elisa Benzoni, costumes; Matt Lescault-Wood, sound; and Andrea Gutierrez, props.
There have been numerous Holmes and/or Watson related properties on the stage of late. Though the Watson in Moxie’s “The (Curious Case) of the Watson Intelligence” featured numerous entities named Watson in multiple historical eras, Vass’s Watson and his more renowned counterpart stay put in “Nome,” at least until the murder is solved. And Wyatt Earp nearly makes off with the show.
— Charlene Baldridge has been writing about the arts since 1979. You can follow her blog at charlenebaldridge.com or reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.