Given this closeness, it is no mystery why they were chosen to portray Holmes and Watson, especially considering the primary focus that Kate Hamill’s script places on the friendship between its two mismatched deuteragonists. I don’t mean to worry the Holmes loyalists: The show still contains plenty of the mystery and intrigue that one would expect. However, Ochs and Cassady agree that it is the “odd couple” dynamic between Holmes and Watson, as well as the offbeat comedy that is typical of Hamill’s work, that takes center stage in this reimagining. “I feel like the heart of the show — what made me excited about it — was, one, it’s a comedic take. The tone of the comedy is just really fun and joyful. And two, it’s an honest and heartfelt friendship. It’s a really fun look at a female friendship,” said Ochs. Who better to bring such a friendship to life than two comedy improvisers with over a decade of fruitful collaboration under their belts?
Credit: Casey Gardner Ford
Credit: Casey Gardner Ford
As the two recall, this history made itself felt from the first day of callbacks. Neither knew that the other had auditioned, so they were thrilled when they arrived at callbacks and were given the chance to showcase their chemistry. Ochs remarked, “It felt like we had bypassed so much work because it felt like being with my little sister.” Cassady also noted that since Ochs was already familiar with her boundaries, there was little fear of experimentation during callbacks — there may have even been some butt slapping.
This partnership clearly appealed to director Suehyla E. Young, who just as easily could have decided she would be better served with two actors who didn’t have such a defined dynamic. As Ochs put it, “There’s no world in which we don’t have all of that history active on stage; all of that love and adoration and that dynamic is already baked in.” Luckily, a madcap comedy featuring best friends seems to be exactly what Young — and possibly Kate Hamill — had in mind.
Of course, as the two actresses noted, the comedy and the friendship are not so easily separated. In fact, much of the comedy in this show emerges from the opposition between Holmes’s larger-than-life persona and Watson’s salt-of-the-earth sensibility. Again, Ochs and Cassady’s history together and their improv background comes in handy, as their reactions to each other are crucial to making this show work. This is a less familiar challenge for Cassady, who has traditionally played more quirky, upbeat characters than Watson. However, it seems she has taken the challenge as an opportunity for play and discovery. “I’m not used to playing the straight man, so I was very excited to see how this was gonna go, and it’s so fun being able to react off of Tara’s huge, amazing, hilarious, comedic choices. Having deadpan reactions to that can bring comedy in itself,” she said.
Cassady also noted that she has continued learning from Ochs throughout the rehearsal process, primarily how to maintain her improvisational spirit while working on a scripted piece: “This is a new process for me where we cannot change any words — which is totally understandable — but for me to not ad lib and have to make physical improvised choices ... I’m just watching Tara do it and I’m just like, ‘Oh, that’s how you do it.’”
As for Ochs, her journey has been about finding a balance between the popular image of Sherlock Holmes and the version that Hamill has written, particularly in relation to Holmes’ gender. Neither actress seems terribly concerned with overplaying the gender-bent nature of the script, preferring to focus on how these characters interact with each other and the world around them. Given that improv often requires performers to cross boundaries and occupy unfamiliar spaces at a moment’s notice, it’s likely the experience with improv has contributed to how Ochs and Cassady have negotiated the influence of gender in this production. Rather than women occupying the spaces of men, they are women picking apart the artifacts of masculinity and femininity to conjure up something new. And, if my hour with them is any indication, they will undoubtedly be doing so with bravado, humor and an unshakeable spirit of collaboration.
“Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson - #2B”
Through Oct. 23. $25-$45. Synchronicity Theatre at Peachtree Pointe, 1545 Peachtree St., Atlanta. synchrotheatre.com.
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