Playwright: adapted by Michael Menendian and John Weagly from the story by Arthur Conan Doyle. At: Raven Theatre, 6157 N. Clark St. Tickets: 773-338-2177; www.raventheatre.com; $20. Runs through: Jan. 4
It's Christmas day in 1890 and the London police have apprehended a suspect in the theft of a precious brooch from a guest in a Mayfair hotel. The stolen property falls into the hands of Sherlock Holmes when it is discovered stuffed down the craw of a goose destined for the dinner table, sending the detective and his colleague Dr. Watson on a search for the real culprita chase leading them from scholarly watering-holes in Bloomsbury to cottage-industry livestock farms in Brixton.
While not precisely a Christmas story, the seasonal aspects of Arthur Conan Doyle's whodunit inspired Raven Theatre's Michael Menendian and John Weagly to adapt it for holiday production in 2011. Its first incarnation as a live-action re-enactment of an old-time radio broadcasta format too often dominated by silly stageside business involving quaint sound-effectssoon gave way to a quasi-Paul Sills scumble of period vaudeville and kiddie-cartoon panto. This 2014 production marks its fourth revision, with improvements made manifest.
Although it's performed by a multiethnic cast, the noticeably better-integrated text is largely grounded in the sensibilities of its Victorian setting in that Holmes and Watson are portrayed as refined gentlemen, while their inferiors sport buffoonish behavior and accents. Musical interludes bridging scene changes are likewise arranged and choreographed to project a Currier and Ives scenic vision, so that even anachronisms like "Winter Wonderland" or sly references to the disappearance from Harley Street of one Dr. Jekyll and the strangely altered behavior of financier Ebenezer Scrooge, while registering on our consciousness, never interrupt the action. Foley-artists armed with noisemakers of varying descriptions continue to ply their trade in view of the audience, along with a pianist supplying instrumental accompaniment and incidentals, but the distractions associated therewith are kept to a minimum ( the exception being the inevitable amusement that the vocalization of Mrs. Oakshott's goose-yard generates ).
Under Menendian's direction, the ensemble likewise projects a refreshing confidence in their material. Graham Emmons and Damian Conrad maintain the gravitas we expect of Holmes and Watson, their patrician manners contrasting with the antics of commoners drawn in George Cruikshank mode ( in particular, Rudy Galvin as a miscreant whose grotesque features in no way diminish the sincerity of his remorseful confession ). While still in need of some fine-tuning, this Raven Theatre production nonetheless constitutes a welcome off-Loop addition to the array of annual yuletide confections.