Cincinnati Shakespeare Company's 'Miss Holmes' Elevates Female Voices

CSC’s adaptation of Christopher M. Walsh’s play offers comedy, drama and — the best part — an opportunity to elevate the many voices of women in the arts.

Jul 22, 2019 at 3:10 pm
click to enlarge Sara Clark as Dr. Dorothy Watson (left) with Kelly Mengelkoch as Miss Holmes - Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Photo: Mikki Schaffner Photography
Sara Clark as Dr. Dorothy Watson (left) with Kelly Mengelkoch as Miss Holmes

CRITIC'S PICK 

Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s 2019-2020 season, “The Season of the Woman,” kicks off with the debut of Christopher M. Walsh’s Miss Holmes at the Otto M. Budig Theater. It is a joyous and thought-provoking staging that will leave theater lovers excited for the rest of the season’s adaptations, which prominently feature women in lead roles. Based on iconic characters by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and directed by Jemma Alix Levy, this production of Miss Holmes is a twist on a classic story that also challenges perceptions of the role of women in Victorian society. 

CSC regulars Kelly Mengelkoch and Sara Clark, as Miss Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Dorothy Watson, respectively, shine brightly as a fierce dynamic duo racing against time to solve the case of a newlywed who believes her influential and high-ranking investigator husband murdered his former wives and that she too will face the same fate. 

Mengelkoch, in her 16th season with the company, flexes the wealth of her experience in the performing arts by effortlessly delivering lines with a perfection that leaves you yearning for more. She easily displays the classic Holmes style — obsessive personality, inquisition and extensive knowledge about any person or thing — but adds her own flair. 

Clark is equally impressive in bringing life to Watson, Holmes’ trustworthy and curious companion. While some may see Watson as the underling to Holmes, Clark’s portrayal makes way for the character to shine in her own right. In doing so, she confirms the belief that when women team up, everyone wins. 

As women across the nation celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment to the Constitution — which gave women the right to vote — it is no surprise that themes revolving around women’s rights, their qualifications for certain professional occupations and sexism are subtle additions to the production. Watson’s consistent pushback and defense of her career as a medical professional is refreshing. Through the twists and turns of the play, we see Watson grow from not just a companion to Holmes, but also into a leader who is capable of holding down the fort when challenges arise. 

The remaining women in the nine-person cast do a phenomenal job of being assertive, funny and compelling against their male counterparts. Overall, the talented mix of both new and legacy performers to the ensemble know what the audience wants and deliver it on command. 

The creative team for Miss Holmes is a tour de force that takes audience members back to 1881 England with a simple yet expansive set design, robust lighting and sound, and thoughtfully curated costuming. I wondered how Holmes’ clothing would translate into that of a female role during a time period where it was frowned upon for women to wear pants. Costume designer Clara Jean Kelly’s choice of a “split skirt” was brilliant; it offered the feel of the classic masculine Sherlock Holmes look while also incorporating feminine elements. 

Likewise, the stage set is sparse, which allows the cast to move around with ease throughout the production. There are minor pieces of furniture, which is perfect because the audience can fully focus on the stellar performances as opposed to admiring the set.

Major kudos should be bestowed upon director Levy in her debut for the CSC. Being the first production in a new season — especially one focusing on the historical significance of the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage — can be intimidating, yet Levy masterfully owned it as director. 

If you are a fan of Sherlock Holmes, you will love Cincinnati Shakespeare Company’s adaptation of Walsh’s play as it offers comedy, drama and — the best part — an opportunity to elevate the many voices of women in the arts. 


Miss Holmes is presented by Cincinnati Shakespeare Company and runs through Aug. 4 at The Otto M. Budig Theater in Over-the-Rhine. More info/tickets: cincyshakes.com