Lifeline Theatre is a mainstay of the arts scene in Rogers Park. They remain after BoHo Theatre moved to Lincoln Square, Theo Ubique moved to the Evanston side of the street, and Wisdom Bridge is long gone but fondly remembered. The talent and stagecraft have always been impressive and remain so with Miss Holmes Returns, written by Christopher M. Walsh and directed by Elise Kauzlaric, who also serves as the dialect coach. This is Sherlock Holmes of Baker Street done with a feminist twist.
Miss Holmes is played by Katie McLean Hainsworth and is perfect in the role. She gives a comic and poignant edge to Miss Sherlock’s imperviousness to emotion. McLean Hainsworth’s body language and clipped posh accent do justice to the witty and intelligent dialogue. Mandy Walsh as Dr. Dorothy Watson is the perfect foil and companion to Holmes’ analytical approach. Walsh also gets some comic lines as Miss Holmes Returns centers around the murder of Thomas Burke, played by Tommy Malouf. He is found with a letter opener in his chest and evidence points to a dark foreign woman.
Miss Sherlock Returns takes place in Edwardian England when Great Britain had colonized India and slaughtered many of the people that lived there. The dark foreign woman is Priya Singh played by Vinithra Raj in a standout performance of steely nerves and tender emotions. Priya is a nurse and works for an organization run by the wealthy Josephine Butler played with gusto by Julie Partyka. Butler’s organization works to repeal an infectious diseases law that is not in favor of women. It is presumed that only prostitutes would spread STDs but more often than not that philandering husbands brought them home to their wives who then were ostracized and subjected to humiliating exams by a male doctor.
This story of Sherlock Holmes has the main character returning from having been committed to an asylum by her brother Mycroft Holmes, played to great sinister effect by Christopher Hainsworth. Mycroft wears a top hat and cape, and appears from the shadows. He also holds the purse strings and being a man, has control over his sister—so he thinks. Sherlock was committed for her obsessive attention to detail and literal elementary means of solving crimes—by seeing them as the table of elements and filling in the elements according to their atomic weight or pertinence as evidence.
Some of the best comic relief comes from the stuffy Mrs. Hudson played by Annie Slivinski. Everything about Slivinski’s posture, facial expressions, and tone are funny in just the right spots. Hillary Williams as the gullible Olive McGann gives a subtle performance as a woman with regrets and a horrible secret in her past. Tommy Malouf does double duty as the dorky Adam Worthington who gives secretarial lessons to the unfortunate women being helped by Mrs. Butler’s organization. He goes from aw shucks Worthington to the sinister Thomas Burke. I would not have known the same actor was playing both roles without reading the playbill. Linsey Falls is wonderful and funny as Inspector Geoffrey Lestrade. He is a hard-nosed cop who has come to depend on Miss Sherlock’s genius and focus on seeing the elements of crime and helping to solve them. His dialect is wonderfully done as a more middle-class person who drops some consonants. Not quite Cockney but definitely not upper crust.
I will not tell much else about the plot because you really should go and see Miss Holmes Returns. The sets for this play by Alan Donahue are up to the fine standard that is a hallmark of a Lifeline play. Donohue created a dark and moody London underworld by the waterfront to the posh home on Baker Street and the bare bones office of Adam Worthington. Emily McConnell’s costumes are spot on for Edwardian England and as character features: Miss Holmes does not wear a bustle and has a distaste for the confining attire that women wear. In case you are wondering what a bustle is—it is padding added to the back of a woman’s dress. It gives the appearance of an exaggerated backside under an extremely corseted waist. Now you know why fainting couches were so popular.
Miss Holmes Returns is a fun mystery and a fine way to spend an afternoon or evening. Glenwood Avenue adapted to the pandemic with style. The street is closed off and canopied with seating and several establishments to choose for pre or après theater dining and beverages.
Miss Holmes Returns runs two hours with one intermission. The show plays through October 16 at Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., in Rogers Park. Tickets are $45 with $35 tickets available for seniors and active or retired military, and $15 tickets for students with ID. Masks are mandatory as well as proof of vaccination.
For more information on this and other productions, see www.theatreinchicago.com.
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