Mysterious Circumstances. Mysterious circumstances indeed…
It was my second time visiting the Geffen Playhouse that day, after watching a captivating matinee performance of Invisible Tango with my uncle earlier that afternoon. One granola bar, iced tea, outfit change and lipstick reapplication later, I found myself seated inside the Gil Cates Theater with a new companion. The personal stakes were a bit higher for this evening’s show. I straighten the hem of my dress against my knees as I watch him flip through the program out of the corner of my eye. I resist touching my hair, knowing I will eventually fail, but for the moment I try. After a near magical first outing a week earlier, I am nervous, but strangely optimistic that our time could be that good, again.
I notice that his energy seems down, comparatively, but I try to keep the conversation upbeat. This is his first visit to the Geffen. I asked him how his day went, what he got up to. He tells me that he spent time working on his garden, went to Equinox and sustained a 8:15 mile time for three miles and that he also went to therapy. I ask him what he goes to therapy for.
“Oh. You know. Life.”
“Sure. But like, why? Is everything ok? What are you working on?” and just an instant too late for me to take the thought back, I am already regretting what is coming out of my mouth.
When he replies, a moment passes that feels like five minutes but in actuality was probably like 0.05 seconds. I catch myself gaping before quickly replying, “Oh! How fascinating!”
The handsome, intellectual, intriguing man with incredible taste in music that I have been spending time with has just told me that he is divorced. The whimsical backstory I had imagined for him is swiftly erased without warning.
And the game’s afoot.
Usually when I watch theatre, I want to fully surrender my imagination to the world of the play, the story that the production is delivering to me in that time and space. But on this particular night, I found myself parlaying the play’s clues, circumstances and stakes into those of my own. Smartly woven between the reality of events leading up to the strange death of a leading Sherlock Holmes scholar and the literary fantasy of Holmes and Watson, playwright Michael Mitnick has certainly done his research. The play is inspired by The New Yorker article “Mysterious Circumstances: The Strange Death of a Sherlock Holmes Fanatic” by David Grann. Although the play seems to primarily focus on the last days of Richard Lancelyn Green (Alan Tudyk) and his quest to uncover a highly sought-after collection of never before seen Holmes artifacts, the genuine human connection to the magnitude and mystery of the circumstances are found in Holmes and Watson’s relentless (often comically so) search for justice.
I have always been a big fan of Alan Tudyk. He’s truly an incredible actor, someone I would dream of working with. If you haven’t seen him in the original British version of Death at a Funeral, please do yourself a favor and go watch it right now. Absolutely brilliant. Many also know him for his role as Pastor Veal in Arrested Development. But my favorite performance of his was a number of years ago in a show at La Mama in the East Village called That Beautiful Laugh, created and directed by one of my then acting teachers, Orlando Pabotoy. At the end of that show, Tudyk proceeded to imitate the laughs of different audience members; gosh it was so beautiful and utterly hilarious. My gentleman friend, although not as familiar with Tudyk’s work, was surprised and delighted to recognize him in the program. Tudyk once again proves his love and skill for the craft with some very smart and endearing choices in this role. Although there were certainly moments that nodded to Lancelyn Green’s “fanatic” nature, Tudyk purely shows us the meaning behind the love for Sherlock Holmes, humanizing the scholar in a beautiful way. Like that beautiful laugh; I guess some things never change, in a good way : ) Even when introduced to an “obsession” that might be challenging for some patrons to get behind, Tudyk illuminates his character so that we can get behind it, so that we can plug in the things we are so relentlessly searching for. So we’re rooting for him : )
As we exit the theatre, although I am still a bit on edge, I am happy to find that my companion has enjoyed the show and was impressed by the scope of the production. Before leaving the Geffen, I ask him take my photo. He doesn’t know that I write a theatre blog, so I fear that the request seems mildly self-involved, or basic. We move to the sign that says Gil Cates Theater, which will soon result in the picture you see at the top of this piece. Even though I feel pretty, I smile sheepishly before deciding that if I look like I’m laughing, it will at least seem like I’m having a really good time. Even though I’m the protagonist in my own story, I’ve decided to tamper with the evidence a little. Similar to the last five minutes of the play we just watched, I’m rapidly running through all the clues I’ve collected. Every piece points to something different about my future, about this guy’s future. I’m not sure if it will be a happy ending, for either of us respectively. But maybe it’s the thrill of the hunt for truth that leads us down the back alley past the theatre, along Glendon Avenue to a bar, where we will spend another hour of our time together, trying to solve the mystery of us.
Mysterious Circumstances (not to be confused with The Curious Incident…Night Time) has now been extended through July 21st at the Geffen Playhouse. Secure your tickets to experience this captivating mystery told by a tight ensemble and shining Alan Tudyk. It may even lead you to uncovering some clues of your own.