TEEN AMBASSADOR: LUCY SCHWARTZ | MARCH 20, 2016
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, originally written by Sir Conan Arthur Doyle, is one of the most well known works of fiction in the literary world. The short stories were published in 1892 and since then, the mysterious escapades of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson have been remade into tv shows, movies, and plays. On Sunday, March 20, Aquila Theatre performed its own adaptation from the novel, but with a twist.
This time, the great Sherlock Holmes was played by a woman acting as a woman. Unlike during the Elizabethan era when, to make up for a lack of actresses, men and boys would don dresses to fulfill female roles, Jackie Schram used her biological gender to her advantage in acting the role of Sherlock Holmes.
The New York-based theatre company regaled the audience, dividing the play into three mini “episodes,” each one outdoing its predecessor in plot complexity, character development, and surprisingly, humor. At times, the story line dragged or conversational dialogue would run in circles, but it was always the comedic element between Holmes, Watson (Peter Groom), and on occasion, the shrill and feeble landlady, that would extract a genuine laugh from the audience, thus bringing attention back to the actors and their quest.
During a cast q&a before showtime, she said that as an actress, Schram wanted to show the audience that a woman was just as capable of beholding the same extraordinary abilities that Sherlock Holmes is known for. The character’s talents are not at all dependant on the detective’s traditional male gender. To further support her point by showing that a women should not be expected to always be wearing a skirt, especially when the clothing is not functional for activities such as chasing down criminals, Schram was costumed in unisex pants, a shirt, vest, and jacket.
What made this rendition complete in a feminist lens such as mine is that the adaptor, Desiree Sanchez, responsible for changing the novel’s storyline to fit this play’s format did not alter the storyline additionally to make Dr. Watson a love interest to Holmes. It’s so often that female protagonists of novels, plays, and movies are given a love interest to work as a major key in the plot, that it has become a norm to see women on screen chasing after a potential suitor. The special friendship between Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson is important to the dynamic of their stories. Altering the nature of their relationship would only disprove the point that no other aspects of a story must change as a result of a change in the protagonist’s gender.
A comment about gender was made at the very beginning of the first episode, when Holmes’ and Watson’s first client, a young lady, comes through their door, and seeks out the detective by calling out, “Mr. Holmes!” Schram, standing but a few feet away from the client, turns around to reveal herself. The client starts and explains she is surprised Holmes is a woman because to her, Sherlock sounds more masculine than effeminate and due to cultural norms of the 19th century, it is not likely for a woman to be holding the job of a detective.
As the play endured, Schram’s performance grew in confidence, but that isn’t to say that she began on a weak note. Quite the opposite actually. The audience was introduced to a Holmes that carried with her as much cockiness and bluntness as the detective has been infamous for. However, by the last episode of the play, Schram was striding across the stage with more crispness and direction and reciting her lines with more precise enunciation than I knew what was missing from the first half of the show.
The quality of the early acting could be attributed to the nerves of starring in a role typically played gendered as a man and performed by a man, but luckily, these nerves appeared to be salved once Schram realized she had a receptive audience.
Overall, the show was intriguing, humorous, and thought provoking. Is this the beginning of a new era? An era that shows a growing trend in the gender-swapping of great literary protagonists? As far as progressiveness in the theatre world, Hamilton may be blazing the trail, but Aquila’s The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, is following closely behind.