Theatre Three kicks off its subscription season with Tony nominated Paul Giovanni’s The Crucifer of Blood, billed as a steampunk Sherlock Holmes production, awash with dark, brooding visuals and cranked along with creaking, hand-turned set changes that thrust out from unexpected nooks and crannies at a-kilter angles. ALL very elemental and imaginatively pleasing, Dr. Watson.
Steampunk: a literary sub-genre of speculative fiction, often associated stylistically with the 19th century ‘scientific’ romances of Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, Mark Twain, and Mary Shelley. The 1960’s popular television show The Wild, Wild West epitomized the style in its use of futuristic ‘scientific’ gadgetry functioning fully in the 19th century.
Director/designer Jeffrey Schmidt uses the expansive height and eerie light and shadow potential of Theatre Three’s in-the-round space to excellent advantage, whether creating a Victorian brownstone parlor, an Indian fort parapet, the bank of the River Thames or an opium den. Without loading down the space with period clutter, Schmidt creates a rich, clean playing space for his cast to explore as they lead us down Giovanni’s well-crafted path of mayhem and mystery. The show whirls along with opium-laced menace and hallucination, akin to 2009’s Robert Downey, Jr. movie. It’s got atmosphere to burn, or inhale, depending.
Uneven performances range from community theatre to skilled farce. Chuck Huber presents an alluring, believable Holmes, except when he’s masquerading clumsily as the operator of an opium den.
The costume tells one tale, the accent another…. Chinese? Japanese? Austin Tindle seems way too young to play Dr. Watson to Huber’s Holmes, wearing a moustache that looks like it came from a Dollar Store clearance bin. Hilary Couch makes an intriguing entrance as a disguised Victorian femme fatale in Act I. In Act II she behaves like a grumpy debutante, circa 2010, with non-period attire to match. Jakie Cabe: what a fine actor he can be. Where did they find his peculiar, sallow-colored Boy Scout-like costume with sash, and how does it help him define the character of Inspector Lestrade? His Irish brogue developed in Stage West productions kept creeping in, oddly enough, as distracting as his weird costume. Greg Lush ratchets up the messy hodge-podge ensemble with an outrageously delectable performance as the effete, murderous Major Ross, more diabolical in death than alive. Thank you, Mr. Lush, for matching the high quality of the production’s set with your incomparable willingness to “let go” and define a fantastical reality.
No question, the stunning visuals carry the show. What a creative force designer Jeffrey Schmidt is. Forgive the clunky mish-mash of ‘British accents’, community theatre acting and odd array of anachronistic costumes. Enjoy a well-chilled suspenseful tale as Paul Giovanni’s Tony-nominated The Crucifer of Blood unfolds.