Friday, October 22, 2010

Elementary School:Three questions with Sherlock Holmes

Posted By on Fri, Oct 22, 2010 at 10:58 AM

Tony Isbell as Sherlock Holmes at Theatre Memphis.
  • Tony Isbell as Sherlock Holmes at Theatre Memphis.
Okay, so I couldn't get Sherlock Holmes to sit for an interview so I got the next best thing. Here's Tony Isbell, who plays literature's greatest detective in Sherlock Holmes: The Final Adventure, which is on stage at Theatre Memphis through October 31.

Intermission Impossible: So, are you a fan of mysteries?

Tony Isbell: I don't really consider myself a "mystery" fan. I like certain stories—but I guess it depends on how you define "fan". I loved the Holmes stories when I discovered them as a kid—probably about 12 or 13. I read many, but not all of them at that time. And I absolutely adored the Jeremy Brett "Holmes" on Masterpiece Theatre. But do I read mysteries for pleasure? Very occasionally. I tend to prefer science fiction.

Intermission Impossible: Holmes seems almost impossible to humanize. He carries such an impossibly vast store of arcane knowledge that he's a Deus ex Machina unto himself, able to change the course of a story suddenly and unexpectedly because he can identify 150 kinds of tobacco ash...

Tony Isbell: Hmmmm...this isn't a question, really, is it? More of an observation. But I tend to agree, although I would hazard to guess that, nowadays, Holmes might perhaps be diagnosed as having Asperger's.
In this production, I was attempting to highlight Holmes' vanity, sense of humor and near addiction to excitement. My take was that Holmes derives a lot of pleasure out of Watson's amazement—even to the point of making semi-absurd requests of Watson just to amuse himself (i.e., asking Watson to "exit through the coal chute"). And it's obvious that he's an "excitement junkie". He says as much in the play—and in the stories, if I recall correctly. And there's no question as to his vanity. I think all these qualities "humanize" him—although, you're right, there's plenty of Deus ex Machina in there too.

Intermission Impossible: In this adventure the playwright has done the unthinkable and given holmes— who has no use at all for women in the original stories— a romantic sub plot. Is this heresy?

Tony Isbell: Heresy? Nah. It's just a play, using a character that's in the public domain. I think the playwright has actually done a pretty good job of taking two stories from the canon, as well as the Gillette play, and combining them with some of his own ideas to make a script that's fun and entertaining. I think most people probably enjoy the idea of Holmes falling in love. And if he's going to do so, then Irene Adler is the obvious choice, right? After all, Holmes did always refer to her as "the" woman—the only woman who ever beat him at his own game—and if Holmes were to ever fall for any woman, it would have to be someone like her.
So even though purists might cry "heresy", I say "Heresy-schmeresy, just relax and enjoy the show!"

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