Thursday, December 18, 2008

The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes


By The North American Cultural Laboratory (NACL). (CLOSED)

This deconstructionist take on Sherlock Holmes and Jacque Derrida complete with rock music, gymnastics and cross dressing has reviewers all over the map. Online press like OffOffOnline, Total Theater and New Theater Corps love it whilst print critics at the Times and the Voice tear it apart.

(Dana Lang) The play takes on the well-known characters of Arthur Conan Doyle and spins them into new, wonderful, and sometimes wacky configurations. Called in to investigate the bizarre murders of Dr. Jeremy Nietzsche and Dr. Kevin Freud, Holmes encounters a wily female detective, Jacqueline Derrida, played dynamically by Sarah Dey Hirshan, who cleverly pushes him to explore the limits of his legendary abilities, and even ultimately (to our amusement), his own identity and inner self, rarely seen in the crisp character...NACL Theatre, which had been in residence at La MaMa E.T.C. for several years, now operates from their own home base in the Catskills, where they run a theater and artists residence and offer a multi-disciplinary performer training (classified into Animal, Vegetable, and Mineral work, what else?). They’re a great company with lots of “juice;” definitely don’t miss this highlight, and be on the lookout for more of their “uncanny appearances” in the future

Total Theater A- (Richmond Shepherd) I rarely see, anywhere, the high level of ensemble work now playing in NACL’s The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes at HERE Arts Center in SoHo. You can only achieve what they do by working together daily for years — and that is what North American Cultural Laboratory does in their upstate theater center... In this show, a very stylized production which includes rock music, a detective-investigating-murder plot, and lots of intricate choreography of physical action and gymnastics with perfect synchronization, has the actors in presentation mode — like marionettes who are human. It’s like Gordon Craig’s concept of the “Ubermarionette,” where the actors are moved in voice and gesture by the puppetmaster/director. In NACL’s work, the company itself is the puppetmaster under the direction of, and using the story by, Brad Krumholz.

New Theatre Corps B
(Caitlin Fahey) As a whole, The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes achieves its goal of a surrealistic take on a classic literary figure. But it is not without imperfections: "Cerebellum" and "Threshold" make for memorable songs, but most of these interludes felt unnatural (and unnecessary), failing to enhance the story, especially when the words were inaudible. Still, while it may make more sense to focus on the gymnastics rather than the music, The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes is a creative, alternative look at one of the great figures in literary history.

That Sounds Cool C-
(Aaron Riccio) : Holmes’s famous method is that when you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains—however improbable—must be the answer. But while the boundaries of a short story (which this began as) may have allowed Krumholz to frame his scene, adapting it for the stage has made it all but impossible to eliminate anything. In fact, NACL (North American Cultural Laboratory) embraces everything, from the amorphous casting of Tannis Kowalchuk as Dr. John Watson (who switches sexes frequently) to the physical contortions of actors-as-sets and, as is the norm for the avant-garde these days, a fourth-wall-breaking band. (“You can’t kill me!” cries out one character. “I’m the bass player! We’ve got to play another song.”)... Sadly, The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes never manifests more than the silly outer aspect.

Village Voice D+
(Alexis Soloski) The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes, a performance piece by the North American Cultural Laboratory, does indeed pose many mysteries: Why is Inspector Lestrade playing the drums? Why is Dr. Watson wearing a silk negligee? And why didn't writer-director Brad Krumholz take more care in crafting this detective-story/rock-and-roll/circus-arts/steampunk mash-up? One conundrum, at least, offers an easy solution: Why does Brett Keyser's Holmes sport a pompadour? Because it looks awesome.

Backstage D+
(A.J. Mell) For all its ambition and theatricality, North American Cultural Laboratory's production suggests a company under the unfortunate influence of semiotics and early Tom Stoppard... There's a lot going on all the time, but none of it particularly jells. Why does Derrida (Sarah Dey Hirshan) turn somersaults and roll around on the floor while relating her evidence? Because Krumholz and company thought it might be fun to add some acrobatics to the mix, that's why. NACL obviously has an overstuffed bag of tricks, but in this case none of it really serves the play or illuminates its meaning.

The New York Times F+
(Neil Genzlinger) Sometimes mixing artistic genres not normally seen together can result in an exhilarating, revelatory production. Sometimes, though, it can result in an insipid, largely incoherent mishmash. Which brings us to The Uncanny Appearance of Sherlock Holmes, a detective story at the Here Arts Center enacted by a rock band that also performs circus tricks. Sounds like a hoot, right? Well, it isn’t, first and foremost because the disparate elements in this production by North American Cultural Laboratory never cohere.

OOO A 13; TT A- 12; NTC B 10; TSC C- 6; VV D+ 5; Backstage D+ 5; NYTimes F+ 2; TOTAL: 53 / 7 = 7.57 (C+)

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