Welcome to Sacred Fools Theater Company, est. 1997

Sacred Fools Theater Company presents
the World Premiere of an Epic Comedy.

A Mystery.  A Legend.  An Enduring Friendship.
Précis: The story of a good man trapped in the shadow of a great man,
Watson is a funny, moving and theatrically innovative take
on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's heroes and villains.

LIMITED RETURN ENGAGEMENT
JULY 28 - AUGUST 20, 2011
Thursdays, Fridays & Saturdays @ 8pm

WINNER OF AN OVATION AWARD!
FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY - Mr. Henry Dittman
 
and three further Ovation Award nominations:
DIRECTOR OF A PLAY - Mr. Jaime Robledo
LEAD ACTOR IN A PLAY - Mr. Joe Fria
FEATURED ACTOR IN A PLAY - Mr. French Stewart
plus a SATURN AWARD for Best Local Stage Production: Small Theater

WINNER OF TWO L.A. WEEKLY AWARDS!
COMEDY DIRECTION - Mr. Jaime Robledo
MALE COMEDY PERFORMANCE - Mr. Henry Dittman
 
and three further L.A. Weekly Award nominations:
CHOREOGRAPHY - Ms. Natasha Norman and Mr. Ceasar F. Barajas
ORIGINAL MUSIC - Mr. Ryan Johnson
FIGHT CHOREOGRAPHY - Mr. Andrew Amani

Tickets: $25
Call (310) 281-8337 or Buy Tickets Online

Upon the Stage...

Mr. Scott Leggett as
Dr. John H. Watson
Mr. Joe Fria as
Sherlock Holmes
Mr. Henry Dittman as
Professor James Moriarty
Mr. Eric Curtis Johnson
as Mycroft Holmes
Ms. Rebecca Larsen as
Irene Adler
Ms. CJ Merriman as
Mary Morstan Watson
Mr. French Stewart as
Sigmund Freud & Queen Victoria

Ms. Lisa Anne Nicolai as Ensemble
Mr. Colin Willkie as Ensemble
Mr. Kevin James Middlebrooks as Ensemble
Ms. Laura Napoli as Ensemble

UNDERSTUDIES

Mr. Chairman Barnes
Mr. Rick Steadman
Ms. Carrie Keranen
Ms. Megan Crockett
Mr. Yuri Lowenthal
Ms.
Lisa Anne Nicolai

Watson
Sherlock & Mycroft
Irene
Mary
Freud & Moriarty
Queen Victoria


The Orchestra...

Ms. Cathy Allen
Mr. John Schimm
Mr. Dan Graziani

Cello
Viola
Violins

Music Composed & Arranged by Mr. Ryan Johnson

Behind the Scenes...

Mr. Jaime Robledo
Mr. Ryan Johnson
Ms. Monica Greene
Ms. Suze Campagna
Ms. Natasha Norman
Mr. Ceasar F. Barajas
Ms. Erin Brewster
Ms. Nicole Agredano
Ms. Suzzy Riffel
Ms. Jessica Olson
Mr. Matt Richter
Mr. Ben Rock
Ms. Ruth Silveira
Mr. C.M. Gonzalez
Mr. Andrew Amani
Mr. Joe Fria
Mr. Padraic Duffy
Mr. Joseph Beck

Writer & Director
Composer
Assistant Director
Stage Manager
Choreographers

Scenic Designer
Scenic Painter
Assistant Scenic Painter
Costume Designer
Lighting Designer
Sound Designer
Puppet Constructor
Prop Master
Fight Choreographer
Suzuki Trainer
Dramaturg
Associate Producer

Produced by Mr. BRANDON CLARK,
Mr. BRIAN WALLIS
 & Mr. FRENCH STEWART

Enjoy the music from WATSON, composed by Mr. Ryan Johnson.

Photos by Mr. Brian Taylor * Powered by Flash Gallery

L.A. WEEKLY (GO!)

In the opening scene of writer-director Jaime Robledo's new play, Watson, at Sacred Fools Theater, the corpulent title character (Scott Leggett) wanders into London's 221-B Baker Street, having been advised by a Gypsy to "go back to where it all began, before it was too late." The sleuth, Sherlock Holmes (Joe Fria), whose adventures Watson has followed and documented, died some time ago — or so Watson believes. But nothing is quite what it seems. And this truism is the foundation for Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories, for the slate of movies and TV programs that followed and, now, for Robledo's fanciful homage to the entire literary-cinematic heap of Holmesophilia.

The play was born in the theater's "Serial Killers" series, a late-night competition of submitted sketches, performed almost on the fly, after which the audience votes on which of the multiple shows will survive, and have the plot continued, the following week.

This is a formula for the kind of wacky inventiveness, in writing and performance, that similarly informs Impro Theatre's literary goofs, such as Jane Austen Unscripted and Dickens Unscripted — among many more genre-busters in which the performers impart love letters to authors of yore while dancing on their graves.

It would be beside the point to recount the plot. Let's just say it concerns Queen Victoria, Sigmund Freud (both played by the gut-bustingly droll French Stewart), double agents and secret intel involving a competition for the possession of Cyprus between the Ottoman Empire, led by Abduhl Hamid; and the Russians, represented by Czar Alexander III. (Both roles are played by puppets.)

In order to fathom what the hell is going on, the coked-up Holmes and his somewhat reluctant sidekick, Watson — whose adventures are placing his marriage to Mary Watson (CJ Merriman) at risk — embark on an odyssey by train and boat and horse and air balloon from Victoria Station to Budapest to the top of a minaret in some unspecified Muslim country, via Dover and Vienna. Oh, yes, they're pursued by the villainous Professor James Moriarty (Henry Dittman), who may or may not be a figment of Holmes' cocaine-induced paranoia.

In case this sounds too cinematic for the stage, consider how the walls of scene designer Erin Brewster's London flat fold away and open up to flights of theatrical devices. Holmes and Watson twist their way blindly around a sheet that represents the infamous London fog. Stagehands dutifully move blocks to provide portable landings for the prancing feet of Holmes and Moriarty, as they traverse the upper ridges of Dover's white cliffs. A quartet of characters encircles a suspended chandelier, while a stagehand makes whissshing and whoooshing sounds, in order to depict the floating visage of a hot air balloon. The landscape below is merely described and then conjured by the audience in a scene that brings the wistfulness of perspective upon an adventure that's both parody and mystery, caught on the same breeze.

The visual wonder is complemented by Andrew Amani's balletic fight choreography and fueled, aurally, by Ryan Johnson's recorded original score, performed on cello, viola and violins.

Fria has an odd body shape, a robust and athletic build with contrapuntally sloping shoulders. His Holmes is a neurotic cousin to Buster Keaton — fleet-footed with quick and precise comic instincts. It's a gorgeous performance, surpassed only by one tour de force riff in which Dittman portrays five characters at Victoria Station (a husband, his wife, a train conductor, an urchin beggar and a policeman) almost simultaneously, by literally changing hats.

If one has any desire for petty carping, it's easy to point to some English accents that hit the perimeter of the dartboard, and Yankee phrases, such as "different than," which should be "different from." There's also a reference to throwing some item "in the trash" rather than "in the rubbish bin." Etc. None of this is reason to stay away from this delightful and at times inspired production, with moments of comic mastery stemming from the traditions of vaudeville.

--Steven Leigh Morris
© 2010 L.A. Weekly

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ARTSBEAT L.A.

Breathtakingly inventive and theatrically innovative, Sacred Fools Theatre Company’s new show Watson is a hilarious, exhilarating and emotionally complex play about author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous creations – Dr. John H. Watson, Sherlock Holmes, the villainous Professor Moriaty and the elusive and ravishingly beautiful Irene Adler.

Written and directed by company member Jaime Robledo (Neighborhood 3: Requisition of Doom) this side-splittingly funny and inventive “final chapter” of the legend of Sherlock Holmes was developed over the course of 2009, during their hit late-night season of new short plays known as Serial Killers.

Robledo’s brilliant play posits Watson as the central character of this comedic drama. Earnest chronicler of his good friend Sherlock Holmes’ dramatic exploits, in literature Watson is generally thought of as the more prosaic sidekick and trusty aide to the unique, colorful and dashing adventurer sleuth. Here, as in the books, a rather rotund Watson (Scott Leggett) plays the straight man to the wildly eccentric Holmes (Joe Fria). First seen shooting up (remember, this is a character who used to inject cocaine into his veins when he lacked a mystery to occupy his vast intellect), Holmes is presented as an extreme personality, consumed by paranoid and drug-fuelled delusions and on the verge of mental breakdown. There’s even a lovely interlude where Holmes’ drug addiction is personified by a beguiling but cruel dance partner.

A cockeyed and wildly gesticulating Holmes rants to Watson about a criminal mastermind that he has dubbed “The Napoleon of Crime” – Professor Moriaty (Henry Dittman). Holmes sees villains, thugs and murderous minions of Moriarty in every shadow while Watson, who has never actually laid eyes on this mysterious nemesis, is starting to think Holmes may have lost his mind. A journey in the service of Queen Victoria (played hilariously in drag by French Stewart) involving an intricate puzzle box propels Holmes to leave London for the Continent, coercing his good friend Watson to abandon his sweet and long-suffering wife Mary (CJ Merriman). But Watson has enlisted one of Holmes’ lesser nemeses, the alluring Irene Adler (Rebecca Larsen), and they have other plans for Holmes.

Their travels take them to a sanatorium in Vienna where Holmes comes face-to-face with another great analytical mind, Sigmund Freud (also played to great effect by French Stewart).

In spite of a thrilling plotline worthy of Doyle himself, the true genius of this magnificent production lies in its constantly inventive staging. Andrew Amani, Jennefer Ludwigsen, Lisa Anne Nicolai and Colin Willkie are the four actors who serve as prop manipulators, effortlessly moving basic pieces such as chairs, hat stands or travelling trunks into position to assist with comedic and action-packed staging. In the vein of the old Saturday matinee cliffhangers, these particular scenes play out with great drama and excitement. The simple shifting of boxes becomes the set for a thrilling battle of fisticuffs atop a speeding train. Wooden chairs become horses for a daring horse chase as our heroes are pursued by bandits. Best of all is the clever scene where Freud tries to analyze a reluctant Holmes; the four ensemble players hold window frames and make appropriate sound effects for the farcical sequence where Holmes keeps throwing the windows open and Freud keeps slamming them shut. It makes for an unbelievably riotous scene.

Add a puppet show to the mix, and you have a wondrously creative and highly entertaining evening of theatre. Do not miss this show!

--Pauline Adamek
© 2010
ArtsBeat L.A.
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JESTHER ENTERTAINMENT

Who is the West’s most famous Afghan War veteran? Some may think it’s Pat Tillman, the late pro-footballer-turned-Army Ranger, subject of a recent documentary. But in my opinion, the answer is elementary, my dear reader: The best known Western veteran of the Afghanistan war, albeit back in the 19th century, is John Watson, the Brit better known as Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson.

He, rather than Arthur Conan Doyle’s scientific sleuth, is the lead character in the Sacred Fools' Watson, The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes, which is an extremely imaginative, clever spoof that had the audience howling with delight and applauding throughout the premiere of the almost two-and-a-half-hour production.

Since circa 1900 there have been more than 222 Holmes productions, and director-playwright Jaime Robledo robs numerous sources to create a send-up that is, in the end, his own unique work of art, as well as a humorous homage to literary icons. Robledo merrily loots Doyle (in particular his 1893 The Final Problem, which was intended to be Holmes’ last adventure, recounted by the faithful Watson), Nicholas Meyer’s superb The Seven-Per-Cent Solution and more.

In tone, Watson, The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes also comically cribs from the stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s, The 39 Steps, with its small cast frenetically and funnily playing multiple roles. In theme, Watson explores Sherlock’s sexuality (or lack there or, perhaps, his homoeroticism), and the cocaine use of a character primarily known for his logic, just as Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond did in the 1970 film, The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes. Although Meyer, Wilder and Diamond made much of Holmes’ penchant for things going better with coke, it should be noted that 1939’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, the very first movie with Basil Rathbone as Holmes, ends with Sherlock exclaiming: “Oh, Watson - the needle!”

Robledo’s partners in crime include a Baker Street’s dozen or so of highly skilled thespians trodding the boards -- sometimes at breakneck speed. The cast is amiably led by Scott Leggett as a rather corpulent Dr. Watson. The slim Joe Fria, who has previously won an LA Weekly Best Comedic Performance award, portrays the consulting (or in this case, insulting) detective with great comic panache. Onstage, the two look more like Laurel and Hardy than Watson and Holmes, and they deserve to win more prizes for their waggish performances.

As should French Stewart (Third Rock From the Sun), who does a Peter Sellers-esque turn in a dual cross-dressing role, with his side-splitting, bawdy Queen Victoria worthy of Sellers’ droll depiction of the Duchess of Grand Fenwick in the classic 1959 satire, The Mouse That Roared. (BTW, the playwright errs here by having Queen Victoria referred to as “Her Highness” -- that is for mere princesses, while the correct appellation, “Her Majesty,” is reserved for monarchs. Veddy English and elementary, my dear Robledo!) Stewart’s uproarious Freud is decidedly less sympathetic than Arkin’s compassionate shrink in The Seven-Per-Cent Solution.

If Vanessa Redgrave played Sherlock’s love interest in that film, the curvaceous Rebecca Larsen lustily portrays Irene Adler -- the only woman to have ever outwitted Holmes -- with sly wit in Watson. Henry Dittman is ditzy as a mustache twirling Professor Moriarty, the “Napoleon of Crime.” There are too many other members of this ensemble cast to single out, but Lisa Anne Nicolai typifies the thespians, as a background player moving about scenery and the like onstage, such as chests that are supposed to be the moving cars of a careening train in one death defying scene, or the white cliffs of Dover in another. As all hell breaks loose onstage, in that Buster Keaton “Great Stone Face” tradition, she somehow never manages to so much as crack a smile. In the face of such hilarity, even Stanislavski would be impressed by Nicolai’s stoic restraint.

Robledo deftly directs his madcap players, and is ably abetted by a creative collective: Scenic designer Erin Anne Brewster, scenic painter Nicole Agredano, costume designer Jessica Olson, lighting designer Matt Richter, composer Ryan Johnson (what would a Holesian saga be without violins?) and assistant director Monica Greene. Watson, The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes is a virtuoso case study not in scarlet but in how small, low budget theater can, with imagination, innovation and verve creatively craft special effects to conjure up far-flung locales, sumptuous sets, and the like. Puppetry, shadows, curtains (effectively doubling as, of all things, fog) and more set the scenes. We travel from London to Constantinople (or is it Istanbul?) and beyond on a diminutive stage in a 66 or so seat theater. It’s obvious that these Fools have a Sacred esprit de corps. Bravo!

One of the big bugaboos of Holmesians is the portrayal and interpretation of Dr. Watson, whom many feel has been slighted onscreen as buffoonish and boorish, such as the often blundering Nigel Bruce opposite Rathbone in about 14 Universal films from 1939-1946. Strict keepers of the Sherlockiana flame may cry, “Is nothing sacred, fools?!” at the liberties Robledo and his acting accomplices take with Doyle’s characters, just as strict Freudians may resist his analysis of the founder of psychoanalysis. But I feel that Robledo’s robbery is more tribute than plagiarism, and true to Watson and Sherlock’s spirit, unlike Guy Ritchie’s 2009 rip-off of the brand Doyle artistically built up.

In addition, by upturning the usual emphasis on Holmes at Watson’s expense, and telling this tale from the good doctor’s viewpoint, Robledo sheds new light on the characters and stories. Along Watson’s way, we come to realize that it was the writer Watson, who chronicled Sherlock’s cases in Doyle’s adventures, who was really the great observer, not Holmes, with his much-vaunted deductive reasoning process.

After Doyle tried to kill his beloved literary creation at Reichenbachfall, Switzerland (not at Dover as in Watson, The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes!) in 1893’s The Final Problem outraged fans forced Doyle to bring his character back to life in 1903’s The Adventure of the Empty House. And here we are, 107 years after Professor Moriarty and Holmes’ tumble down that 393-foot Swiss waterfall, still enjoying new works based on Doyle’s immortal characters. (PBS is also airing a modern day, British-made version of the Holmes sagas.) What Robledo’s Watson, The Last Great Tale of the Legendary Sherlock Holmes proves is that the only thing that could kill Sherlock is dying from laughter. That is a risk theatergoers must happily take in order to enjoy this Baker Street irregular which I predict has a long life ahead of it beyond the Sacred Fools.

--Ed Rempell
© 2010 Jesther Entertainment

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LAist

There has been no lack of adaptations of Arthur Conan Doyle's most famous creation, Sherlock Holmes. He's infiltrated every form of media for the last hundred years, and as I write this, he's the lead in a big Hollywood franchise and the subject of a modernization via a BBC TV series. This begs the question: can anything new and significantly fresh be done with the character? Not really. That being said, Jaime Robledo's comedy, Watson, successfully tweaks the formula with R-rated humor and constantly inventive direction, and its current production at Sacred Fools is hilarious and very entertaining.

The eponymous Dr. Watson (Scott Leggett) is recounting his last adventure with Holmes (Joe Fria): a trip across Europe to transport a mysterious box to an important government conference. Holmes is in terrible shape, his drug addiction getting the better of him, causing him to frequently rave about shadowy Turks and a criminal mastermind named Moriarty (Henry Dittman). Watson thinks both of these obsessions are fictional, and to help his rapidly deteriorating friend he engages the help of Sigmund Freud (French Stewart). Regardless of whether Holmes is hallucinating or not, Watson realizes that the outcome of this case depends on himself, and the sidekick must somehow become the hero.

Leggett is likeable and professional as Watson, but as the lead in a show filled with terrific actors, his portrayal is perhaps more muted than it could be. Fria, one of L.A.'s most gifted physical comedians, is a marvel as Holmes, shifting from sullen to loony to twitchily paranoid in a moment, staggering about with slippery grace, his face as protean and expressive as a silent film comedian’s. Dittman is a reservoir of arch wit as Moriarty, more teasing than threatening. He's amazing in a scene where he plays multiple characters--from a train conductor to a begging street urchin, from a cop to a pair of fops--switching roles as quickly as he switches hats. Stewart is bluntly amusing as a thuggish Queen Victoria, but he absolutely kills as a hipster Freud--a bullying horndog doc with the therapeutic instincts of Tony Montana--in one of the funniest and most skillful comedic performances to be seen onstage this year. The rest of the ensemble is consistently impressive.

Robledo's direction is unflaggingly creative, from using chairs bouncing up and down as horses or having two characters lie flat on the stage to simulate a fight on a minaret wall. A scene where he brings the mobile set ever inward to display Holmes' growing anxiety is expertly wrought, and a sequence where mime, lighting, sound effects and a lowering chandelier represent a balloon in flight is astonishing in its simplicity and effectiveness. Ryan Johnson’s original score for string instruments heightens the show’s emotions and its sense of dramatic adventure. Matt Richter’s lighting design adds measurably to the production through numerous small touches, particularly in an early scene where he flickers the light to re-create the unsteady illumination of London gaslight lamps.

Robledo's writing is often clever ("He was shivering like a naked Bedouin covered in sherbet."), but the plot is merely adequate and unfortunately the title character is the least interesting or realized in the piece. Overall, however, Robledo is clearly very talented, and this play is an auspicious showcase.

--Terry Morgan
© 2010
LAist
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STAGE & CINEMA

THERE’S NO PLACE LIKE HOLMES

The world premiere of Watson, The Last Great Tale Of The Legendary Sherlock Holmes, presented by the Sacred Fools Theatre Company, has a lot going for it: side-splitting Vaudevillian-type sight gags, brilliantly inventive direction, comedic acting that harks back to silent film, insanely luminous and flowery dialogue, a cohesive plot, likeable characters, and modern references interspersed with (mostly) authentic-sounding Victorian phrasing. Writer/director Jaime Robledo is really on to something here: an homage to Sherlock Holmes mysteries that incorporates farce, imaginative stagecraft (akin to the theatrical version of Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps), and out-and-out dramatics.

However, Robledo’s choices in style can occasionally clash rather than complement each other; interconnectedness seems to have been sacrificed for a string of wonderful moments, making the proceedings on display uneven: some sight gags fall flat due to excessive ribaldry, and the individual characterizations range in style from wildly farcical to serious. Whether the farce needs to be toned down or the more comedic goings-on need to be added remains unclear.

What IS clear is that we are witness to a clever story (worthy of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle himself), and a masterful assemblage of talent: Sherlock Holmes (Joe Fria) has convinced his ever-faithful partner in crime-solving, Watson (Scott Leggett), to join him on an adventure that takes them from Victoria Station to Turk-infested Constantinople. Mr. Fria will no doubt be compared to the incomparable Buster Keaton; his expressive dead-pan face and rubbery body perfectly complement the darker side of his persona: namely, his needle-jabbing addiction to drugs. Mr. Leggett is the ideal embodiment of Watson; it’s a wonder how agile he is, considering his corpulence. As the narrator of the piece, Mr. Leggett applies the veneer of a London gentleman quite well, but his scenes with Holmes have him basically being the straight-man sleuth to Mr. Fria’s antic detective. Being that this is a send-up, their relationship feels like it should go much more toward the realm of Laurel and Hardy (indeed, they already physically resemble the famous screen duo). When Holmes exasperates Watson by stating the obvious, the rotund Doctor says, “No shit…YOU!” That’s the direction I’m talking about.

In order to keep the audience wondering whether or not Holmes’ adversary Moriarty (Henry Dittman) is a drug-induced concoction of a cocaine-soaked brain, Robledo brilliantly assigns Dittman the task of playing five characters at once with literally the change of a hat – the results are devastatingly funny and Mr. Dittman has created one of the most memorable moments in the theatre you may ever see – his brilliant larking about is not to be missed. Likewise the unparalleled French Stewart, who takes Chaplin-esque comedy to new heights as both Sigmund Freud and Queen Victoria.

CJ Merriman plays Mary Watson; her scenes as the frustrated wife – one who is growing wearisome of Dr. Watson’s exploits with Holmes – are charming, and having her character on board will heighten the suspense of the ensuing mystery. But as lovely as she is, the uncomplicated style of her scenes feels incongruous to the proceedings (perhaps they were intended to be a breather from the zaniness of the show).

There is a good time to be had – some scenes positively crackle with exciting humor, and it must be reemphasized how clever the staging is, like a billowing white sheet used for a London fog effect – but Watson still hasn’t put its finger on what it wants to be (unless its intention is to be a mixed bag). The good news is that the core of a theatrical marvel is there – now, just some tightening, paring, and fleshing-out of the stylistic choices is all that is required. Take it on, Sacred Fools!

--Tony Frankel
© 2010
Stage & Cinema
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BACKSTAGE (CRITIC'S PICK!)

With this zany comedy, writer-director Jaime Robledo joins the swelling ranks of those who create pastiches based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes stories. But Robledo's revisionist tale shifts the emphasis from Holmes to his indefatigable sidekick/amanuensis Dr. Watson. Like "The 39 Steps" seen earlier this year at the Ahmanson Theatre, much of the comedy here derives from wild and woolly events in spectacular locales being acted out with the simplest possible means. A series of footlockers and wooden boxes, moved and manipulated by a busy ensemble, serve as a speeding train on top of which there's a pitched battle against murderous Turks, then become the White Cliffs of Dover, over which Holmes (Joe Fria) and his evil nemesis Professor Moriarty (Henry Dittman) plunge to their apparent destruction.

The plot is a crazy rigmarole in which Queen Victoria (French Stewart) assigns Holmes a mission to deliver a mysterious box to an upcoming political summit, which might cause/prevent world war. When Holmes gets lost and sidelined, it's up to Watson (Scott Leggett) to save the day and participate in an international chase - via hansom cabs, trains, hot air balloons, and on horseback - all cleverly simulated with nothing more than a few chairs and a highflying chandelier. Many of Doyle's familiar characters turn up along the way, including Holmes' brother Mycroft (Eric Curtis Johnson), opera singer Irene Adler (understudy Carrie Keranen), plus Sigmund Freud (Stewart again), and Watson's long suffering wife Mary (CJ Merriman). And there's also a puppet show, with clever hand puppets crafted by Ruth Silveira.

So long as Robledo is content to focus on the comedy, the show is a real crowd pleaser, but when he attempts to get serious, it bogs down rather like the plot scenes in a musical comedy: We just wait him out. But his inventive staging usually keeps things lively. Leggett serves as a sturdy foil for Fria's manic, drug-addled Holmes, and Dittman shines as Moriarty and a host of denizens of Victoria Station. Stewart's Freud and Queen Victoria offer plenty of eccentric comedy and a sizable measure of raunch, while Keranen and Merriman have to play it straight. Lisa Ann Nicolai, Colin Wilkie, fight choreographer Andrew Amani, and Jennefer Ludwigsen make up the hard-working ensemble, who play various roles, manipulate props, and move Erin Brewster's ever-mobile set.

--Neal Weaver
© 2010 Backstage

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STAGESCENE L.A. ("WOW!")

You don’t have to be a Sherlock Holmes fan to deem Jaime Robledo’s Watson theatrical magic, as its return engagement at Sacred Fools Theater Company makes abundantly clear. No wonder Watson (aka The Last Great Tale Of The Legendary Sherlock Holmes) won a pair of coveted LA Weekly Awards—for Robledo’s direction and Henry Dittman’s bravura comedic work—in its initial run last fall. Robledo’s comedy thrills and astonishes again and again, making its midsummer encore the best possible news for Los Angeles theatergoers in the mood to be dazzled.

Developed over a period of twenty-one weeks as part of Sacred Fools’ hit late night series Serial Killers, Watson features a plot that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle might have been proud to call his own.

We first meet our titular hero (Sherlock Holmes playing second fiddle for perhaps the first time in his life) in the purportedly deceased detective’s Bakers Street digs. The discovery of a journal of the pair’s last adventure together sends Watson (and us) flashing back in time, back to when Her Majesty Queen Victoria sent detective and sidekick on a journey across Europe to the Middle East. Their mission: To transport a mysterious puzzle box to an international conference between Ottoman chief Abdul Hamid and Russian Czar Alexander III, both of them vying for possession of Cyprus. Watson and Holmes’ seemingly simple task soon turns into a transcontinental chase, the adventurous pair pursued by legions of evil Turks and various other villains—including arch Holmes nemesis Professor Moriarty, aka The Napoleon Of Crime.

Got that?

No matter if you didn’t. The real fun in Watson are in the theatrical pyrotechnics unleashed by Robledo, his cast (in particular a quartet of thesps who give new meaning to the term “ensemble”), and the production’s gifted designers.

Here’s a taste of what’s in store for you in the 99-seat house Sacred Fools calls home:

• Holmes and Watson searching in vain for each other in possibly the densest London fog in theatrical history.
• A thrilling fistfight between hero and villain atop the cars of a speeding train.
• A band of treacherous Turks pursuing our intrepid heroes on horseback.
• Holmes and Moriarty engaged in a daring duel of wits at the edge of the Cliffs Of Dover.
• Our heroes on a sky-high hot air balloon ride over Europe.
• Two of the above clinging for their lives from the rooftop of a Turkish minaret.

As to how all this is accomplished, I will simply say that none of it could be done without the abovementioned quartet of ensemblists, who work hard indeed for their gas fare as they maneuver assorted trunks, chairs, a chandelier, and a particularly large white bed sheet (courtesy of prop master C.M. Gonzales). Add to that the contributions of composer Ryan Johnson and a trio of prerecorded musicians, designers Matt Richter (lighting) and Ben Rock (sound), and fight choreographer Andrew Amani, and you’ve got one heck of a team of creative artists creating theatrical marvels on a shoestring budget.

Besides adventure, Watson offers laughter galore thanks to some of the most brilliant comedic performances of the year (and some off-the wall dialog thrown in for good measure).

A seemingly inexhaustible Scott Leggett gives us a Dr. John H. Watson no longer the bumbling sidekick we remember from countless Sherlock Holmes adaptations, but rather a loving husband, faithful friend, and courageous adventure hero. As Holmes, rubber-bodied Joe Fria is every bit as outrageous as Leggett is understated, Sherlock’s cocaine addiction offering the award-winning actor the chance to perform some of the most inspired physical comedy since the silent movie greats showed us how back in the 1910s and ‘20s. LA Weekly-awarded Dittman makes for a deliciously fiendish Moriarty, but it’s his tour de force turn as a Londoner, his wife, a train conductor, a pint-sized street urchin, a police “bobby,” and a pair of foppish twits—all in the space of a few dazzling minutes and achieved only with the switch of hats and some breathtaking acting versatility—that make his the production's most talked about performance.

Eric Curtis Johnson (Mycroft Holmes), Rebecca Larson (Irene Adler), and CJ Merriman (Mrs. Dr. Watson) provide Grade A support, while the one-and-only French Stewart brings both Queen Victoria and Sigmund Freud to outrageously quirky life, stopping the show time and again with his inimitable French Stewartisms.

As for the ensemble, the stellar Lisa Anne Nicolai, Colin Willkie, KJ Middlebrooks, and Laura Napoli get the workout of their lives creating illusions it would take multi-millions of dollars to bring to the silver screen, acting various minor roles, and giving new meaning to the word “stagehand.” (The window-frame scene in Freud’s office alone is nearly worth the price of admission.)

Choreographers Natasha Norman and Caesar F. Barajas add to Watson’s many visual delights, aided by Merriman’s dance gifts in simulating Holmes’ cocaine trances. Jessica Olson’s costumes are yet another treat for the eyes, and Ruth Silveira’s puppets are terrific too. Watson is produced by Brandon Clark, Stewart, and Brian Wallis. Monica Greene is assistant director, Suze Campagna stage manager, Nicole Agredano scenic painter, Fria Suzuki trainer, Padraic Duffy dramaturg, and Joseph Beck associate producer.

With a publishing deal already signed, it’s a sure bet that Watson’s return to Sacred Fools is only the latest step on its road to national and maybe even international hit status. If you’ve not seen Watson yet, do it! And if you’re one of the lucky ones who caught it the first time around, here’s your chance to do it again. Newbies and return visitors are likely to find themselves in perfect agreement that there's not a more magical show in town.

-Steven Stanley
© 2011 StageScene L.A.

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L.A. TIMES

The idea behind writer/director James Robledo’s “Watson” was elementary: turn Sherlock Holmes’ companion and biographer into the hero of an all-new Holmes adventure. Developed in installments, it was also funny and inventive enough to run the gauntlet of the Sacred Fools Theater Company’s 21-week “Serial Killers” competition to become a full-fledged production last year.

“The game’s on the other foot” once more in this limited return engagement, as the loyal and practical Watson (Scott Leggett) tries to keep a dangerously unstable Holmes (Joe Fria) from self-destructing during his “final” case.

The principal cast returns with inspired irreverence and ingenuity. Holmesians will appreciate the inclusion of iconic figures from the Arthur Conan Doyle canon: Holmes’ brother Mycroft (Eric Curtis Johnson), his love interest and intellectual equal, Irene Adler (Rebecca Larsen), and of course his nemesis, Professor Moriarty (Henry Dittman, in a hilarious mix of malevolence and effete decorum).

Despite some reworking for this remount, the patchwork story still shows its episodic seams. The detective’s famous powers of deduction take a back seat to action sequences, wittily realized with physical dexterity and aided by a quartet of stagehands who become peripheral characters and reconfigure scenes from minimal props (the fistfight atop a speeding train is a hoot).

Robledo freely acknowledges his debt to Nicholas Meyer’s film, “The Seven Percent Solution,” with the focus here on Holmes as a paranoid dope fiend whose predilections for logic and cocaine make him a kindred spirit and ideal patient for wisecracking Sigmund Freud (French Stewart). Actually, the classic Holmes-Watson partnership as conceived by Doyle adheres more closely to Carl Jung’s psychological model than to Freud’s, with Holmes embodying the analytical thinking and sensory observation functions, while Watson supplies intuition and sensitivity of feeling. Together they make a whole psyche, and amid all the fast-paced hijinks Robledo’s vision honors that complementary and touching relationship.

-Philip Brandes
© 2011 L.A. Times

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STAGEHAPPENINGS.COM

There would seem to be no end of fascination about the legendary British detective, Sherlock Holmes. Since his debut in the mid-1880s. in Britain, Holmes continues to absorb our energies, from the printed page to the theatre to film to television.

So when one sets out to wholly invent a story (not by A. Conon Doyle, his creator), one had better fully understand how Holmes’ emotional intellect works (in the recent BBC television version, Holmes, played by Benedict Cumberpatch, explained that he was a “sociopath.” Oh, dear.). So the wonderful gall of writer/director Jaime Robledo to attempt a new story has turned out to be quite a clever endeavor, with the spotlight, this time, turned on Watson as the protagonist, dragooned against his will into chasing the evil-doer, Moriarty and his gang of Turkish thugs, throughout Europe. The story is not really the point, as it turns out, but rather a platform for the brilliant direction of Mr. Robledo, who makes a chase on top of a moving train exciting, without ever leaving the ground. In this instance, he has four “extras” move three boxes-on-the-floor (two to a box) so that the two actors playing Holmes and Moriarty (Joe Fria and Henry Dittman) don’t miss a beat as they fight each other on the swaying coaches. A dramatic kudo, matched throughout by character-inter-action and re-action.

Watson (Scott Leggett) is very heavyset, Holmes is slight and the relationship is clear; Watson cares more deeply for Holmes than vice-versa, but that’s the problem with sociopaths: they can’t give back emotionally and will use you unhesitatingly. And it works. The acting-energy between Leggett and Fria is translucent which indeed points us back to the extraordinarily good direction. Any farce (and this is a farce in the best sense of the word) works best when there is an underlying reality; when it’s grounded in real people wanting real things.

And in casting it so well, even the under-used actors show range: Colin Willkie, K.J. Middlebrooks, Laura Napoli, Lisa Anne Nicolai (as the quartet of “extras”, C.J. Merriman (as Irene Adler, a former romance-figure of Holmes), Dittman (especially in a tour-de-force playing three or four people in a railroad terminal, and French Stewart (as Queen Victoria and Sigmund Freud – figure that one out!) are all dead-on in their characterizations. In addition, the music for this production, by Ryan Johnson, sounds great by itself and especially supports the emotional underpinnings of the words.

This show played earlier this year, winning a bunch of theatrical awards, all deserved. It’s an oddity, a one-off, that you won’t see done up as well, as funny, or as touching as here. Do not miss this.

-Dale Reynolds
© 2011 StageHappenings.com

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L.A. THEATRE REVIEW

Watson, now playing at the Sacred Fools Theater, tells the tale of the last adventure of Sherlock Holmes and his famous sidekick. Written and directed by Jaime Robledo, it is an homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s timeless stories of London’s greatest detective.

In Robledo’s version, however, Holmes is more of a comic figure, so strung out on cocaine that he can barely stand or keep track of where he is. While at times he still manages to flash some of his hallmark powers of observation and deduction, the true hero in Robledo’s pastiche is Dr. Watson, grounded, focused and caring of others, all qualities which his more celebrated partner seems to lack.

Watson originally opened at the Sacred Fools in November of 2010 and enjoyed box office success for eight weeks. The company has now brought it back for another four-week run to fill a gap in the theater’s schedule, and to allow Robledo to tinker with the script, in order to prepare it for publication. (And I do mean tinker, because I have seen both versions and, as a viewer, could not identify any variations.) Additionally, virtually all of the original cast have returned to reprise their roles for the current production.

The play is a audience pleaser because it employs a variety of theatrical tricks, including a hat-changing bit in which one actor assumes five different characters in a span of about three minutes; a scene in which Holmes and Moriarty meet on the cliffs of Dover and manage to make their way across the entire stage using only three wooden boxes; a scene in Sigmund Freud’s office in which the windows are personified; and a clever simulation of a chase scene up the walls of a minaret, as well as numerous other effective visual ploys.

The Sacred Fools Theater Company, as usual, does a first-class job all around, from the direction and acting to the sets, props and lighting. Scott Leggett and Joe Fria give absolutely magnificent performances in the lead roles, and Henry Dittman truly embodies the devious and cocky yet ultimately insecure Professor Moriarty. French Stewart (of “Third Rock” fame), who also co-produced, is allowed to let loose in the very divergent but equally comedic roles of Sigmund Freud and Queen Victoria. The rest of the cast, including the versatile ensemble, is also strong.

True Sherlock Holmes and mystery fans will likely complain that the play is short on the logic and deduction which was the crux of Doyle’s stories and relies too much on gimmicks and visual effects. In short, that it advances style at the expense of substance. But if one is prepared to overlook this transgression and allow the playwright some artistic freedom to riff on, rather than imitate, the original, one will see that these gimmicks stay in the memory of the theatergoer long after the meager and convoluted plot has fallen from the mind’s view.

-Joel Elkins
© 2011 L.A. Theatre Review

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THE GAME IS ON THE OTHER FOOT!