Sherlock Holmes at Lyndhurst Mansion

My wife and I were fortunate to see the opening night performance of the sold out run of Sherlock Holmes: The Adventure of the Dancing Men, presented by M&M Performing Arts Company Inc. at the marvelous Lyndhurst Mansion in Tarrytown, New York. This isn't just a show, it's an unforgettable experience.  Overlooking the Hudson River, the Gothic Revival landmark on 67 pristine acres, which served as a location for Dark Shadows and Reversal of Fortune, isn't just a perfect setting, it's also a character itself, representing Ridling Thorpe Manor in England for the mystery adapted by Tal Aviezer from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's tale.

This is Aviezer's second adaptation of a Holmes mystery. I previously reviewed The Adventure of the Speckled Band, which was performed at the Cahill Theater on the campus of the College of Mount St. Vincent, and although that was a fine traditional theatrical production, this newest version takes it to another level. The Adventure of the Dancing Men is a site specific example of performance art, taking its audience from room to room in the Lyndurst Mansion. Yes, even the audience itself is part of the story, an intimate group on a tour of the esteemed Cubitt family home, only to witness the unfolding intrigue that eventually leads to murder.

Melinda O'Brien plays Mrs. Pumblechook, the tour guide who leads the audience around the Norfolk mansion (and also through dramatic-license slight-of-hand to that familiar London address 221B Baker Street). It's a well-executed set-up that brings the audience from scene to scene, all the while keeping everyone engaged in the plot and interacting with the actors, even looking for clues alongside the detective.

I cannot stress enough how perfect Lyndhurst is for a story like this. No theatrical set could reproduce the real thing -- the architecture, the furniture, the artwork, the outdoor vistas, all adding up to transport the audience's imaginations to 1888.

The scenario, based on one of Doyle's short stories, has all the familiar elements we've come to expect from a Sherlock Holmes mystery. Cryptic notes are being left behind, causing tension between Mr. Hilton Cubitt and his young American wife Elsie. The brilliant detective is summoned to solve the hieroglyphic scribblings, which grow more threatening as the plot unfolds.

Michael Muldoon is magnificent and quite endearing as Hilton, trying to understand what is happening without breaking his vow not to pry into his bride's hidden past. Likewise, Zoey J. Rutherford brings a range of believable emotions to the role of Elsie, building up to the inevitable violent climax.

Tal Aviezer once again portrays Sherlock Holmes, a role that has been brought to life so many times by so many other noteworthy actors. To his credit, he makes the character his own, paying homage to some of the characteristics fans have come to expect (like the use of a magnifying glass and reference to the detective's cocaine habit) while bringing his own interpretation and adding memorable nuances to the part.

As the detective's companion and chronicler Dr. Watson, Joe Laureiro continues to shine. As in the written text on which this play draws its inspiration, in many ways Watson is the link for the audience into this world of deduction, asking the questions that we would ask, showing astonishment at Sherlock's near inhuman ability to reason and find answers to daunting puzzles. Laureiro is a very human Watson, and we instantly connect with him.

It's a shame more people won't have the chance to see this production, but those who already have their tickets are in for a treat. Director Holland Renton has outdone herself, seemlessly staging the action throughout the Lyndhurst Mansion and delivering what is sure to be an experience to remember for Sherlock die-hards and novices alike.

The sold out performances conclude on June 28, 2015, but you can see Sherlock Holmes again in Red Monkey Theater's new adaptation of The Adventure of the Red-Headed League in October at the Cahill Theater in Riverdale, and maybe he'll appear in further mysteries at Lyndhurst Mansion and elsewhere in the future.