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The audience doesn’t have to wait long for the words “My dear Watson” to be uttered on Baker Street.

Milwaukee Chamber Theatre blurs the line between reality and fiction with the Midwest premiere of Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Jersey Lily at the Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway.

Our eponymous detective, portrayed by the ever-professional Brian J. Gill, must tackle a case of blackmail alongside real-life figures from turn-of-the-century London, including author Oscar Wilde (Rick Pendzich) and socialite Lillie Langtry (Kay Allmand).

The script, crafted by Seattle playwright Katie Forgette, was published near the peak of Sherlock’s resurgence in the mainstream in 2009 — the same year as Robert Downey Jr.’s debut as the character, one year before Benedict Cumberbatch took on the role for the BBC and three years before CBS’ Elementary premiered.

It’s a curious play for MCT to select to open its 2018 season. In an age of theater when seemingly every on-stage performance seems rife with politicism and progressiveness, Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Jersey Lily follows a standard plot without making (too) much of a blatant statement overshadowing the story at hand. The opening night audience had a sprinkling of kids laughing along with the grownups; it’s an easily digestible show for all ages.

WHERE

Cabot Theatre, 158 N. Broadway, Third Ward

WHEN

Aug. 10-Aug. 26

  • 1 p.m. Wednesdays
  • 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 15
  • 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays
  • 4 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturdays
  • 2 p.m. Sundays
TICKETS
  • $15-$40 for general admission
  • Students: $15 for all sections
  • Seniors: $5 off all tickets
  • Active military, veterans and families receive 25-percent off

Matt Daniels as Professor Moriarty, Jesse Bhamrah as John Smythe; photo by Paul Ruffolo, courtesy of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

There’s a theft, mystery, plenty of foreshadowing, blackmail, duplicity, swordplay, a monologuing hairless villain in a cape (if you know anything about Holmes, you can guess who that is), and a shoehorned romance for good measure.

It’s a refreshingly fun 120 minutes, and should be regarded as such.

Forgette manages to adapt British humor well into her American script — quick jokes without loud punchlines and more than a few jabs at us silly Americans.

Brian J. Gill as Sherlock Holmes; photo by Paul Ruffolo, courtesy of Milwaukee Chamber Theatre

MCT makes fun of theatre itself throughout the play, which is again a refreshing and self-aware choice. Pendzich’s performance as the ever-famished Wilde — usually regarded as a tragic hero in English literary lore — is by far the funniest of the show, mixing hilariously loud monochromatic suits with overdramatic hubris. And then there’s Karen Estrada who plays Mrs. McGlynn, a down-on-her-luck actress constantly begging for her supposedly deserved moment in the spotlight.

If you’re looking for a play that challenges norms and stretches boundaries of what belongs on stage, then you should look further than Sherlock Holmes and The Case of the Jersey Lily. But if you miss the good ol’ days where “the good ended happily and the bad not so,” (as Sherlock says near the end of the play in one of his sharper moments of wit), then hurry over to the Cabot in the Third Ward before Aug. 26.

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Theater Notes

If you see the show, here are two things to pay special attention to:

Keep your eyes open: Take note of how Professor Moriarty, played by Matt Daniels, shakes Holmes’ hand when they first meet in the second act. It’s wonderfully villainous, although quick enough to miss.

Look up: This isn’t about the play itself, but… Take note of the mural on the ceiling of the Cabot Theatre. Not only is it a beautiful painting, but its written message is worth remembering for any Thespian or fan of the theater.

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