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The Mask of Moriarty

For fans of classic British mystery, The Mask of Moriarty is an unbridled romp of knowing chuckles, nodding guffaws and the occasional horselaugh.

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James FitzGerald, David Whalen and Martin Giles in PICT's The Mask of Moriarity - PHOTO COURTESY OF SUELLEN FITZSIMMONS

For those of us who have misspent much of our lives wallowing in the Golden Age of British Crime -- both fiction and fact, paper and celluloid -- Pittsburgh Irish & Classical Theatre's production of The Mask of Moriarty is an unbridled romp of knowing chuckles, nodding guffaws and the occasional horselaugh. Hugh Leonard's 1985 play leaves few stops unpulled in this dissection of that first and greatest of franchise detectives, Sherlock Holmes. Director Alan Stanford, the show's original Dr. Watson, wraps it as a pretty package for holiday entertainment.

Don't expect any reverence for the canonical Arthur Conan Doyle -- or even anachronism. A mishmash of references, in-jokes and styles from several decades flanking the turn of the last century (all the way to Alfred Hitchcock) underlies much of the comedy, which soon descends -- nay, marches -- into farce. The plot includes murders, family secrets and multiple clichés of old mystery tales, but very little sense. It matters not.

Stanford's creative team has designed a gorgeous production for the well-chosen cast members to chew. Taking the biggest gulps, of course, are David Whalen, stretching in many directions as Holmes, and Pittsburgh's king of bluster, Martin Giles, as Watson. Applause also to Jessica Bates, Liz Roberts, James FitzGerald, Michael Hanrahan, Tony Bingham, Daryll Heysham and Ethan Saks as various personae, often simultaneously. Scene changes, usually a time-dragger, are amusingly handled by the "dancing men" of the O'Shaughnessy "brothers": Ben Blazer, Nicholas Bigatel, Dan Derks and Emily Lewis. Kudos to the aforementioned designers: Joan Markert, costumes; Gianni Downs, sets and production manager; Nicholas Quinn, sound; Andrew David Ostrowski, lighting; and technical director Paul Bistrican.

Alas, audience members who successfully dodged British pulp crime stories will miss the subtleties of sly puns, visual as well as verbal, and risk being off-put by the over-the-topness of it all. But there is a lot of fun, a virtual sixpence, to find in this heavily larded Christmas pudding, if you have the taste for it.

  

THE MASK OF MORIARTY continues through Dec. 17. Charity Randall Theatre, Stephen Foster Memorial, Forbes Avenue at Bigelow, Oakland. 412-394-3353 or picttheatre.org

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