Strained ‘Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson’ spoof misfires at Synchronicity

Kate Hamill has been touted as one of the country’s most produced playwrights for several years now. Evidently, her specialty doesn’t seem to be coming up with her own original material so much as it is about putting her own particular spin on the literary classics of others — typically, taking an irreverent or unconventional approach that’s often satirical in tone and usually feminist in nature.

Besides her theatrical versions of Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” and Bram Stoker’s “Dracula,” Hamill has shown a specific fancy for the novels of Jane Austen, with stage adaptations of “Pride and Prejudice,” “Mansfield Park” and “Emma.” On the local scene, Synchronicity Theatre presented Hamill’s Austen-based “Sense & Sensibility” back in 2017, and Georgia Ensemble Theatre most recently mounted her rendering of William Makepeace Thackeray’s “Vanity Fair” earlier this year.

“Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson – #2B,” Hamill’s latest period piece, reworks and rearranges stories and situations initially conceived by Arthur Conan Doyle in a series of British books about the celebrated sleuth Sherlock Holmes and his trusty companion, Doctor John Watson, circa the early 1900s. Her idea of a distaff variation on those familiar characters might have been better served were things pitched even a pinch more straightforwardly. As is, the result is a mixed-up mash-up of a full-fledged farce.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Haphazardly directed for Synchronicity by Suehyla E. Young (formerly known as Atlanta playwright and actress Suehyla El-Attar), the unwieldy hodgepodge of a play casts Dad’s Garage improvisers Tara Ochs and Karen Cassady in the title roles. They’re respectively renamed Shirley Holmes and Joan Watson, and are now mismatched roommates in “today-ish” London. The co-stars bring an obvious sense of spontaneity to the proceedings, but the show probably could use more structure and focus instead.

Watson arrives from New York in a “transitional phase,” running away from and still processing personal and professional woes at home, and prone to panic attacks at the mere sight of blood. It’s “elementary,” of course, that her new flatmate describes her as a “puzzle that needs to be solved.”

Substituting the character’s traditional tobacco pipe for marijuana joints, Holmes insists on being called Sherlock rather than Shirley, and she scoffs when someone likens her to a “latter-day female Encyclopedia Brown.” Google, hashtags, tweets and social media may as well be foreign words and concepts to her; she hasn’t got a cell phone, and she doesn’t “do” the Internet, either.

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

Credit: Casey Gardner Ford

While others let loose with one-liners about “Laverne & Shirley” or “Star Wars,” Holmes drops names like Sacco and Vanzetti. When Scotland Yard’s Inspector Lestrade (O’Neil Delapenha) arrives at the apartment to discuss his new criminal investigation, she refers to him as the “fuzz.”

The comedy throws together bits and pieces from various Holmes/Watson murder mysteries — in more of a willy-nilly fashion, as opposed to very intricately or cleverly. There are about as many vague mentions of Marxist manipulators, anarchist labor unions and fanatic socialists from the turn of the 20th century as there are fleeting nods to alternative facts, election results and student loans. Famous nemeses such as Irene Adler (Vallea E. Woodbury) and Professor Moriarty (Delapenha again) eventually make appearances. But so does someone in a Donald Trump Halloween mask.

Although the plot doesn’t exactly thicken, it does culminate with a lot of arbitrary twists and turns and double-crosses, and an obligatory amount of rehashed exposition and psychobabble that aptly reminds one character of “something out of a bad James Bond screenplay.”

Is it any wonder Watson finally feels like she’s playing checkers when others are playing chess, as she puts it? The same can be said of Hamill basically playing Tiddlywinks to Arthur Conan Doyle’s Risk.


THEATER REVIEW

“Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson – #2B”

Through Oct. 23. 8 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays; 5 p.m. Sundays. $25-$45. Synchronicity Theatre (at Peachtree Pointe), 1545 Peachtree St. NE, Atlanta. 404-484-8636. synchrotheatre.com

Bottom line: A game that runs more afoul than afoot.