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Theatre review: Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem

From+left%3A+Joe+Montanari+%28Watson%29+and+Joe+LoCicero+%28Holmes%29+in+Long+Beach+Shakespeare+Company%E2%80%99s+Sherlock+Holmes+and+the+Final+Problem
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Theatre review: Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem

From left: Joe Montanari (Watson) and Joe LoCicero (Holmes) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem

From left: Joe Montanari (Watson) and Joe LoCicero (Holmes) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem

Courtesy LB Shakespeare Company

From left: Joe Montanari (Watson) and Joe LoCicero (Holmes) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem

Courtesy LB Shakespeare Company

Courtesy LB Shakespeare Company

From left: Joe Montanari (Watson) and Joe LoCicero (Holmes) in Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem

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Kicking off its 2019 season, the Long Beach Shakespeare Company (LBSC) is offering a 1940s “old-time radio” version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem, adapted by LBSC Artistic Director Brandon Cutts. Think of it as seeing a live podcast of uber-detective Sherlock Holmes facing down his arch-nemesis and evil genius Moriarty in a final battle.

The talented LBSC crew makes the story’s international cat-and-mouse game nearly as intriguing as a fully-staged production. Under the tight direction of Joe Montanari, who also plays Holmes’s sidekick, Dr. Watson, the story unfolds in about an hour, complete with delightful commercial breaks supporting local establishments.

Joe LoCicero delivers Holmes’s lines with a clear and richly intense, yet understated, voice, as the detective explains to Watson how and why he’s been evading the nefarious Moriarty and his henchmen, against whom he successfully fistfights, bloodying his knuckles. It turns out Holmes has deduced that Moriarty’s genius is behind much of London’s criminal-underworld operations.

To aid our imaginations, Kelly Voelker performs sound effects on stage– including doors opening and closing, a gun being put down and picked up, shoes tromping and horses clopping– with Sarah Hoeven providing suspenseful, live organ music.

Hoeven also voices Holmes’s cockney landlady, Mrs. Hudson, as well as some of the minor characters in Switzerland where Holmes and Watson end up after a very secret train journey. It is there, at an evocatively described waterfall, where Holmes confronts Moriarty, voiced by Montanari, who literally switches hats from being Watson to playing the evil genius.

Montanari also wrote all the commercials, which are playfully performed by the cast. Hoeven is hilarious in an ad for a local clothing cleaner, stealing the scene from straight-man Montanari, who wants her to pitch a detergent.

More seriously, in his director’s notes, Montanari cites LBSC crewmember Lauren Velasco’s analysis of Moriarty as inherently evil, which was apparently rare for a British upper-class man in 1894, when the story was published. Velasco quotes Holmes describing Moriarty as having “‘hereditary tendencies of the most diabolical kind.’”

The production thus fits LBSC’s “2019: A Season of Villains,” which will feature other radio shows, along with fully staged productions of Williams Shakespeare’s drama of mad jealousy, Othello, and the violent Titus Andronicus, as well as Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, in which a man pridefully sells his soul to the devil.

For now, though, you can enjoy the engaging talents of four LBSC crewmembers in an intriguing, not too violent, auditory battle of wits between Holmes and his evil equal and “final problem,” Moriarty. But only through this weekend!

Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem continues at the Helen Borgers Theatre, 4250 Atlantic Ave., through Jan. 20, with shows Friday and Saturday at 8pm, Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $12.50. For tickets and information, call (562) 997-1494 or visit LBShakespeare.org.

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Theatre review: Long Beach Shakespeare Company’s Sherlock Holmes and the Final Problem