Sprung from the mind of Jeffrey Hatcher, the writer behind the underrated play-turned-film Stage Beauty, the Arizona Theatre Company’s 45th-anniversary season opener Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club is a fun theatrical mash-up that drops the characters from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes realm into an adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s The Suicide Club. I caught this world premiere helmed by ATC’s artistic director David Ira Goldstein at the Temple of Music and Art, the company’s cozy home base and a civilized oasis in the heart of downtown Tucson. There isn’t a bad seat in the roomy house, and you can peruse the upstairs art gallery or take your time enjoying gourmet food, a glass of wine, or a cup of locally roasted coffee from the adjoining Temple Lounge before the show, then grab a refill and take it into the theater with you—a far cry from the tourist cattle call-feel of leisure-lacking Broadway these days.
Though its old-fashioned costumes and dialogue (“That fellow’s a prince?” Watson asks about a heavily accented character, to which Holmes replies, “Most Russians are”) and illustrations and archival photos of London projected onto a back screen, might make Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club seem stuffy and uninventive at first glance, this truly ensemble piece surprisingly puts a fresh spin on some familiar material. The production itself—with its gothic set design, unobtrusive lighting, and journeymen actors—offers no standouts, which is commendable. Team effort trumps individual showiness in this story of a despondent Sherlock Holmes (Remi Sandri) whose will to live returns when he stumbles upon a mystery in need of being solved at an underground suicide club. “Suicide by second party” is how an elderly gent explains the club’s policy of members helpfully offing each another one by one, though whether the selection process is rigged—and if so, how, by who, and why—is the matter at hand for the famous sleuth. With its hidden hints and on-stage sorcery (according to the press notes, the set designer tucked clues into the scenery and several magic tricks and their props were created by the production department specifically for the show), the play soon becomes as enjoyably retro and warmly welcoming as a game of Clue. (Indeed, whenever the characters would lift their flutes to the club, one of my friends would toast with his wine glass right along with them.)
In a city abundant with ghost sightings and haunted abodes (even the historic Hotel Congress, site of the capture of the notorious Dillinger gang, supposedly has spirits wandering its lovingly preserved halls), it’s fitting that Sherlock Holmes and the Adventure of the Suicide Club has the vibe of a campfire tale or a cheesy séance conducted by enthusiastic storytellers faking accents. Though the play’s premise may spiral out of control (a World War-causing suicide club?) and its conclusion defy logical reason, its bona fides as solid popcorn theater are never in dispute.