A genial ‘Sherlock Holmes’ to enjoy, by Kentlands Community Players

With stellar performances, spot-on accents, and sumptuous Victorian costumes, this production was a thoroughly entertaining experience.

It was a dark and stormy night in Gaithersburg, Maryland. My teenage girls were having problems with friends and I was exhausted. Did I feel like trekking to the Arts Barn, my neighborhood theater, to see the Kentlands Community Players’ production of Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem? Let me tell you that I did not.

But I had made a commitment, so at 7:40 pm, I dutifully marched out my door and walked the few tree-lined blocks to the Arts Barn. For those of you who don’t know, the Kentlands is one of America’s premier “neo-urbanist” communities, meaning it was designed to allow people of all stages of life and income brackets to live together in a walkable neighborhood that engenders a feeling of community. It is a delightful place to live.

It is also a delightful place to see theater, and Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem turned out to be just the thing to distract me from life’s problems. With stellar performances, spot-on accents, and sumptuous Victorian costumes, this production exceeded my expectations in every way.

Cor Estoll as Sherlock Holmes, Avery Morstan as Dr. Watson, and Pauline Griller-Mitchell as Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs. Hudson in ‘Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem.’ Publicity photo by Markham Luke.

The story finds Sherlock Holmes (let’s assume you already know who he is) in London on the eve of Queen Victoria’s Golden Jubilee (a quick Google search tells me this happened in June of 1887). Many Americans are visiting London for the festivities including Wild West Sharpshooter Annie Oakley, Buffalo Bill Cody, and a Pinkerton detective. Also visiting are several nefarious members of American crime syndicates. Holmes gets involved in a mystery that connects all the Americans and solves it much in the way you would expect him to if you have ever seen or read a Sherlock Holmes story.

R. Hamilton Wright’s script is solid, if a bit wordy and convoluted. I admit to scratching my head a few times trying to figure out who did what, but it all tied up nicely at the end. My jaw also dropped with amazement at the skill with which Cor Estoll handled this mountain of dialogue. Estoll plays Holmes with such conviction that you would swear he was a neurotic British Victorian detective rather than an FDA employee who first started acting only four years ago. Estoll’s accent was spot on, and as he was onstage for nearly the entirety of the production, he really carried the show. A disappointing performance in this role would spell disaster for the entire show, but Estoll rose to the occasion and then some. Estoll had great rapport with Avery Morstan, who was thoroughly entertaining as Dr. Watson.

Also turning out a stellar performance was Pauline Griller-Mitchell as Holmes’ housekeeper Mrs. Hudson. Griller-Mitchell, a WATCH Award winner and a seasoned local actor and director, is one of those performers who can make people laugh with a mere twitch of her head. As Holmes’ dotty, aged housekeeper, she conjured plenty of laughs from the audience and made a small role a major part of this production’s success. Griller-Mitchell also served as the production’s dialogue coach, a big job that she executed successfully, given the many accents (refined London, Irish-American, standard American) required by the script.

Direction by Vanessa Markowitz contributed to the convivial feel of the show, with the entire cast working together and utilizing every inch of the Arts Barn’s small stage. I did find the scene changes to be unnecessarily cumbersome and frequent, however. The play’s action ping-pongs between Holmes’ rooms at 221B Baker Street, London docks, and other locations. In this production, set pieces were carried on and off stage manually during each scene change. This caused a lag in the play’s action and was often awkward when cast members were seen onstage lugging tables to and fro.

Cor Estoll as Sherlock Holmes and Rachel Brightbill in ‘Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem.’ Publicity photo by Markham Luke.

Faring much better were the production’s costumes by Stephenie Yee. Lee assembled a sumptuous collection of Victorian frocks, from ladies’ dresses to Holmes’ signature hat and cloak. The only outfit that seemed out of step was the suit worn by Sherlock’s brother, Mycroft Holmes, which felt better suited for a 1970s disco than a Victorian parlor.

Strong supporting performances by Jenn Robinson as Mayhem Maggie Malloy, Chuck McCarter as Major Thaddeus Isaac Ramsey, Sam Kuhr as the Pinkerton detective, and Katherine Rogers as Miss Charlotte Lichter led to a thoroughly entertaining experience and one of the best community theater productions I have seen so far this year.

The Kentlands Community Players are a newish company and one that embodies “community” in the truest sense of the word. This production is a testament to the hard work and dedication that must have gone in to growing this company from a mere idea in producer Meredith Fogle’s head just a few years ago. The company is now attracting strong talent and ready to make itself a real presence in the local theater sphere.

Sometimes a night out at the theater is the perfect respite from life’s woes. For me, Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem was that and more. As I walked back home after the show, enjoying one of the first crisp nights of the fall season, the world felt just a little bit brighter.

Running Time: Two hours and 15 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.

Sherlock Holmes and the American Problem plays through October 1, 2023, presented by Kentlands Community Players performing at the Kentlands Arts Barn, 311 Kent Square Road, Gaithersburg, MD. Purchase tickets ($22, general admission; $20, students ages 15–21; $15, youth 14 and under) online or in person at the Arts Barn box office.


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