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Friday, April 23, 2021

Back from the Brink, a tribute to A.B

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Why does Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lone case — Sherlock Holmes solved it back in 1893 — get the most playwrights’ respect among historical novels?

There’s just no logic to it, says Garry Hynes in his sumptuous and supercharged 2011 play. Indeed, it should be laughed out of the theater and left to “our dear newspapers,” Hogarth’s printers, who stir things up so excessively. This was at the suggestion of theater director Tim Carroll, who staged Sir Tom Stoppard’s very funny and extravagantly extravagant “Jumpers for Goalposts,” an adaptation of a savage parody of Sherlock’s case written and directed by G.W. Murnau, who couldn’t have wished for a better dramatization of his knave’s obsession for a protagonist who’s in his fantasy not “tarnished by the immediacy of the immediate” but rather “got his brains worked out.”

Hynes, of “Trevor in Love” fame, is not a moron — not at all — but the very moxie of his “Back from the Brink” plays (also staged by Carroll) strains credulity, which is why the John Watson of Murnau’s play is portrayed (by Joel Tubers) as being rather the way he is in the Holmes stories. Having attended “Trevor in Love” with me, Hynes joined me a second time in season-ending devotion to the bookshop lad who drops in to his uncle’s shop and cracks wise; even if the story lacks the thrilling surreality that made Conan Doyle’s adventures go on for so long.

So what exactly is here to excite our fascination for Holmes? One of the two reasons I think my interest is waning (a cost of having fallen in love with Holmes’ lanky morewistful sidekick, The Hound of the Baskervilles) is that I never got to know the jealous, possessive, embittered Watson of the Sherlock Holmes stories well enough to care.

Now it’s interesting to see how the Holmes novels have been dramatized, in most cases by Garson Kanin, Herbert Barrow, Julian Fellowes, John Kander, Guy Hamilton and so on. As Henry James commented — a reference that resonates with Hynes’s play — the English playwright “worships only of muscular magic and the ironclad solution.” In other words, he loves this mystical soul who can see things out there in space, on the street and in his head.

The Buried Yard, the show-stopping finale, was first developed in a Lennon-McCartney concert.

Backstage!

“Back from the Brink,” a new one-man show directed by Guthrie Theater’s artistic director, Joe Dowling, opened Oct. 20 at the Birchmere Music Hall in Alexandria, Va.

Playing to an auditorium of mostly school and community theater actors, the two-hour play is an homage to the full-length drama written and directed by Dublin’s Sean O’Casey in 1919 and immortalized by Eugene O’Neill in the 1951 stage adaptation, as well as Hollywood film adaptations by Alfred Hitchcock, Fritz Lang and later Alfred Hitchcock.

In its lyrics, A.W. Byatt feels that comedy has never come to O’Casey; the “backstage” portion of this theatre-of-the-present show clearly exemplifies the point.

Peter Gethin stars as one of history’s most humble, downtrodden stage actors, Gerry, who is selected by a writer of stage, novel and film to appear at the local historical monument in Dublin — A.B. Curtin’s Dublin Crumlin Burying Ground — on the “Dublin Theatre Stroll.”

Roughly skulking through the first act, Gerry observes the thriving Irish theater scene, as the poignant songs “Down Home” and “Precarious Consolation” beautifully inform us, and he understands the hunger that would carry him into the more promising, working-class streets of Dublin.

His close encounters with famous auteurs — including directors John Huston and John Huston, Irish actors Horace Heaney and John Barrymore, and finally Scrooge himself, Reginald Richard Baum — provide flashes of inner life as well as hints of his own gradual inwardness.

Gethin reveals to us, through melodramatic gestures and subdued dialogue, that Gerry is a world-weary

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