by Christopher M. Walsh
Based on characters by Arthur Conan Doyle
directed by Jessica Jackson
An anonymous note, a fearful wife, and a pair of curious shoes? Sounds like a perfect case Holmes and Watson. Ah but there’s a twist: Miss Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Dorothy Watson sleuth their way through the twists and turns of this classic mystery. The Chicago Tribune calls it “a cunning and highly enjoyable gender-bent take on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s maddeningly brilliant detective.” If you fancied Around the World in 80 Days, you’ll love the lightning-quick pace and skillful character swaps of Miss Holmes. The game’s afoot!
Venue: Main Stage
Genre: Detective, Mystery, Suspense
Rating: PG for some suspense
ABOUT THE SHOW
Director – Jessica Jackson
Scenic/Lighting Design – Matthew Schlief
Costume Design – Tatyana De Pavloff
Sound Design – Becca Pearce
Fight Choreographer – John DiAntonio
Asst. Director – Dustin Bronson
Stage Manager – Devon Muko*
Asst. Stage Manager – Alex Skaar
Sherlock Holmes – Kate Berry*
Dorothy Watson – Caitlin Wise*
Lizzie Chapman/Peggy/Martha – Heather Michele Lawler*
Elizabeth Garrett Anderson/Mrs. Hudson/Eudora Featherstone – Stephanie Diaz*
Thomas Chapman/ Superintendent/Orderly – Scott Kuiper*
Mycroft Holmes/ Vagrant/Edwin Greener – Dustin Bronson*
Geoffrey Lestrade/Orderly – Logan Ernstthal*
Michael Stamford/Reginald/Orderly – Zayaz De Camara
The Enduring Legacy of Sir Doyle’s Detective
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s mastermind detective has endured the test of time and is firmly entrenched in popular culture. Numerous television series, movies, graphic novels, and books have been inspired by the consulting detective residing at 221b Baker Street. Why is Sherlock Holmes so compelling?
A Rational Mind in an Irrational World
Doyle modeled Holmes after his friend and Scottish surgeon, Doctor Joseph Bell. Bell pioneered forensic science, even consulting on the Jack the Ripper case. Bell emphasized a strict adherence to detailed observation. After observing a stranger for a few minutes, Bell, like Holmes, could unnervingly rattle off personal details like occupation and recent travel.
In A Scandal in Bohemia, Doyle describes the extent to which Holmes had achieved a sort of perfect rationality: “All emotions, and that one particularly, were abhorrent to his cold, precise but admirably balanced mind. He was, I take it, the most perfect reasoning and observing machine that the world has seen.”Doyle also endowed Holmes with Bell’s idea that a clear mind retains only what is relevant. Sherlock is the ultimate example of mindfulness over multi-tasking. From A Study in Scarlet: “I consider that a man’s brain originally is like a little empty attic, and you have to stock it with such furniture as you choose. It is a mistake to think that that little room has elastic walls and can distend to any extent. Depend upon it there comes a time when for every addition of knowledge, you forget something that you knew before. It is of the highest importance, therefore, not to have useless facts elbowing out the useful ones.”
In a world in which justice is often arbitrarily applied, this is a compelling fantasy: a perfectly rational mind, free of assumption and bias, will always catch the guilty, absolve the innocent, and justice will prevail. In her wonderful book, Mastermind: How to Think Like Sherlock Holmes, Maria Konnikova writes, “Holmes’ trick is to treat every thought, every experience, and every perception the way he would a pink elephant. In other words, begin with a healthy dose of skepticism instead of the credulity that is your mind’s natural state of being.” As Holmes reminds us in A Scandal in Bohemia, “Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”
A Profound Friendship
Perhaps the most compelling thing about Holmes and Watson Jeremy Brett and David Burke in
is their journey from The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes (1984) unlikely roommates to
platonic life partners. Although awkward and condescending on the surface, Holmes’ interactions with Watson make them both better humans and detectives. Holmes gives Watson a uniquely Sherlockian compliment in The Hound of the Baskervilles: “It may be that you are not yourself luminous, but that you are a conductor of light. Some people without possessing genius have a remarkable power of stimulating it.”
Although Holmes cannot express the depth of this friendship, Doyle makes it clear in his stories that Holmes would be lost without Watson. From The Adventure of the Engineer’s Thumb: “You’re not hurt, Watson? For God’s sake, say that you are not hurt!” It was worth a wound — it was worth many wounds — to know the depth of loyalty and love which lay behind that cold mask. For the one and only time I caught a glimpse of a great heart as well as of a great brain. All my years of humble but single-minded service culminated in that moment of revelation.”
Director’s Note: Jessica Jackson
Were women to “unsex” themselves by claiming equality with men, they would become the most hateful, heathen, and disgusting of beings and would surely perish without male protection. – Queen Victoria in a private letter to Sir Theodore Martin, 1870.
I think he will probably come round in time, I mean to renew the subject pretty often. – Dr. Elizabeth Garrett Anderson upon her father’s objection to her pursuit of medicine, 1860. She became Britain’s first female licensed physician.
I adore a juicy mystery. Keep me on the edge of my seat. Keep me guessing. Keep me one step behind the mind of the brilliant detective. In Miss Holmes, Christopher Walsh gives us two incredible mysteries: 1. Who is behind the mysterious letters and murders? 2. What if Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson were women?
Walsh wrote a play that turned on one simple alteration to literary history and its oceans of luminous male masterminds. Into that ocean he dropped a female Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson. The females of 19th century literature are almost entirely supporting characters: virtuous wives, sisters who die of wasting diseases, and plucky virgins who become virtuous wives (or die of wasting diseases). Walsh’s play is entertaining, nostalgic, and gives Sherlock Holmes fans everything we love about his mysteries – while making the daring choice to place England’s greatest mind in the head of a woman.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote during a century that defined literature for the English-speaking world. This period gave us Dickens, the Brontes, Thackeray, Trollope, Collins, Eliot, Stevenson, Hardy, Wilde, both James’, Byron, Keats, the Shelleys, Kipling. During this same century, and arguably for every century prior, the acceptable range of women’s behavior and morality was perilously narrow. A woman’s destiny was to devote themselves to the domestic sphere and play supporting roles in the adventures of husbands, brothers, fathers. Consequently, female characters played supporting roles in most of literature.
There are more female protagonists in today’s culture, but we haven’t gained as many as you’d think: In the top 100 grossing films of 2017, females comprised 24% of sole protagonists, 37% of major characters, and 34% of all speaking characters. My wish is that bookish nerd-girls like me see themselves reflected in the smart, brave, resilient characters named Holmes and Watson. You aren’t supporting characters in someone else’s story. You are the protagonist. Get out there. Catch the killer.
Produced in special arrangement with Dramatic Publishing, Woodstock, Illinois.
*Member of Actors’ Equity Association, the Union of Professional Actors and Stage Managers in the United States.