The game’s afoot in Ed. Lange’s “Sherlock’s Secret Life,” a 2002 take on the famous Sir Arthur Conan Doyle stories told from the point of view of the aging Dr. John Watson, perhaps the Victorian age’s most famous sidekick.
Although most Doylies may think that “A Study In Scarlet” was the first Holmes and Watson caper, the play — being produced by Bonnie Grice’s Boots On The Ground Theater at the Southampton Cultural Center in March — begs to differ. And no, you don’t have amnesia, but the damsel-in-distress that the young duo help in this theatrical version does.
The Independent caught up with the busy Grice for a few minutes to discuss the show.
How did you learn about ‘Sherlock’s Secret Life’?
I started my theater company in 2016 to recreate and retell stories from history, with a particular emphasis on the 19th Century, a personal passion. There’s so much to learn from the Victorians — the ingenuity, the inventions, the birth of the women’s and civil rights movements, and the birth of the detective.
The first detective story was actually written by an American — Edgar Allan Poe, who’s been called the undisputed master of the detective story with his character Dupin in the 1840s. Dickens, who was obsessed with the detective, had read Poe and was inspired to write his own detective Inspector Bucket in “Bleak House,” paving the way for Conan Doyle and Holmes later in the century.
Two years ago, I decided to bring Holmes to the East End stage. As far as I knew, he’d never been presented onstage here before. I started shopping the idea around to friends and potential directors and researching/reading more than a dozen Holmesian scripts. I now have a library of Sherlock for the stage!
Most of the standard stories are a bit old and dusty and very stilted. I wanted something that could reflect a more modern, edgy Holmes a la Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. I narrowed it down to five potential scripts and our director Josephine Terisi-Wallace and I chose this one. I invited Josephine to work with me again as director since we’d had such a good experience together on “Red Badge of Courage” in 2018. We both agreed that “Sherlock’s Secret Life” had the perfect combination of mystery, crime, love, murder, and comedy, plus it’s never been done before on Long Island.
I know you have a love of history, and in particular the Victorian/Edwardian age, both in England and the U.S. How did that come about?
For the reasons above, plus I love the costumes and the interiors of the time. I’ve become an obsessed collector of costumes, fabric, and furniture from the 19th Century. I think my husband is a bit overwhelmed at times! But he’s super supportive since he shares a passion for the period.
He’s currently working on a book about a company of cavalry from Long Island that served in the Civil War. When you come to the show and see the set, just know that my house has been emptied to provide the set pieces.
The costumes are a mix of history and a bit of steampunk for fun. Jo and I are super excited about the set and costumes and, of course, our rocking cast of East End stars, familiar to SCC audiences. This is going to be a real romp. Guaranteed to keep even the most rabid Sherlock fans on the edge of their seats. Be prepared for a Sherlock shock at the end.
What do you hope to bring to the audience, besides entertainment?
Boots on the ground theater strives to provide history and entertainment with a nod to our area students. We always provide an opportunity for a student actor to be featured in a main role alongside our veteran actors.
We featured Southampton middle schooler Emma Suhr as Helen Keller in “The Miracle Worker” in 2018. Thomas Schiavoni was our Henry in “Red Badge,” and he returns for this production as the young Watson. Plus, we always provide at least one free show for students. This time, it’s a free matinee for high school students on Saturday, March 14, at 2 PM, followed by a Q&A with Detective Sergeant Lisa Costa from the Southampton police. She’ll compare detectives then and now.
What do you think makes Sherlock Holmes such a timeless character?
Crime. Solving crime. Exploring the motives, the evidence. A tradition that readers and viewers have enjoyed for centuries. Must be part of our DNA.
And Conan Doyle created characters that had little in the way of forensics or technology. Holmes and Watson just went with their instincts and gathered together clues using mostly grey matter, with an occasional spy glass. The brilliance of this dynamic duo still shines over a century later. Everything old is new again.
Tickets for “Sherlock’s Secret Life” are available at www.scc-arts.org. The show runs March 6 through March 22.