If you think you’ve seen and read every possible variation on the Sherlock Holmes stories, get ready for something that is possibly entirely new: “Miss Holmes” at the Rochester Repertory Theatre.
The play, which opens Oct.4, places two women, Miss Holmes and Dr. Dorothy Watson, as the lead characters in a murder mystery. Everything is what you might expect: brilliant deductions by Holmes, foggy London locales, including 22B1 Baker Street, and Holmes’s mysterious brother Mycroft.
But one thing is not so elementary for Holmes and Watson in this play: As Victorian-era women, they have to struggle against the limitations set for them by society.
“The women definitely take the lead,” said Mary Pyfferoen, who is directing the show. But, she added, any missteps on their part will likely force them back into traditional female roles.
The play features Rebecca Sands as Miss Holmes and Beth Regener as Watson, with R.J. Traff as Mycroft. Beyond that, Pyfferoen has assembled a cast of local stage all-stars: Lisa Modry, Cheryl Frarck, Bill Schnell, Sean Lundberg, and Rich Dietman.
“And I have six new people who have never performed at the Rep and are making their debuts,” Pyfferoen said. “I’ve got a great combination of new people and experience.”
In rehearsals, the cast has been dealing with the quick changes of scenery, a variety of British accents, and, to top it all off, the requirement for a couple of characters to speak in German. The German phrases, by the way, will not be translated for the audience.
Pyfferoen said “Miss Holmes” was exactly what she was looking for during a search for scripts.
“I had seen a play in the Cities written for Sherlock and Watson to be men, but it had women playing the parts,” she said. “I wondered if there were any written for women, so I started looking.”
That’s when she found “Miss Holmes,” written by Christopher Walsh. But as more than a gimmicky turn on the Holmes stories, this play explores conventional gender roles in the buttoned-up society of 19th-Century England. There was no room for error for women who wanted to break the mold.
Aside from that, “Miss Holmes” offers the same attractions as the original Sherlock Holmes stories. “It makes you think, ‘How on earth did she figure that out?'” Pyfferoen said.
–Tom Weber, Post-Bulletin, September 26, 2019