Keeping the Holmes Fire Burning : Circle Bar B opens season with ‘Sherlock’s Last Case’

Does director Jim Cook like mystery and murder, or do murder and mystery seek out Jim Cook? Only last season at the Circle Bar B Theatre, Cook investigated “The Musical Comedy Murders of 1940.” Kicking off this season, he walks in with the master detective of 221B Baker Street and “Sherlock’s Last Case.”

“Susie (Couch, the owner and producer of Circle Bar B) picks the shows, and I’m like, another murder mystery? OK,” jokes Cook. “And it’s not really what the show’s about. It’s more the creativity and the working with actors onstage and creating a believable world in which this takes place.”

“Sherlock’s Last Case” returns us to the world that Arthur Conan Doyle created for his famous detective, but Charles Marowitz, then an artistic director in a London-based company, played around with the formula with this 1984 play. The first version was hastily written in 14 days by Marowitz to fill a hole in a schedule; it was later expanded to a full-length play after people showed enough interest in it.

The play is both spoof and devilish mystery, with a few hairpin turns that will amuse and displease the purists in equal numbers.

“I like it because it’s an interesting twist,” says Cook, who will not reveal the surprise. “You go through two or three scenes before everything flips over.”

The cast comes from Circle Bar B’s stable of actors, with Sean O’Shea playing Holmes and David Couch (husband of Susie, and co-owner) playing Watson.

“Watson is not the bumbling idiot that Nigel Bruce and others made him out to be,” says Cook. “Remember, he’s a doctor, and Sherlock Holmes doesn’t suffer fools gladly.”

Cook says he’s interested in the younger version of Watson, who audiences recently saw in Guy Ritchie’s movie version, which combines some of that smartness with the more traditional take.

When talking with Cook about this play, his favorite words are “hard,” “difficult” and “impossible.” That doesn’t mean the cast won’t be ready, but rather that he simultaneously loves and understands the daunting task.

“They’re all challenges to me,” Cook says of his recent work at the bar. “This is a real difficult show for the actors, pages and pages of script to read.”

Both Couch and O’Shea have difficult passages to get through. Company newcomer Hannah Wolf plays an ingénue in the play and has her work cut out for her.

“She plays a whole bunch of roles in the play,” Cook says. “As a young actress, that’s hard to pull off.”

A longtime Basil Rathbone fan, Cook is letting the play do its work. The plot may be out there, but his vision of Holmes is not. The play kicks off a season that also features “The Girl in the Freudian Slip” by William F. Brown, the Gilbert and Sullivan-loving “Precious Nonsense,” by Rachel Lampert (author of last season’s “Tony & the Soprano”) and A.R. Gurney’s “The Cocktail Hour.”

Cook is on this “Case” and set to open tonight. Then it’s back waiting for his next offer from the Couches.

“I don’t know why she keeps giving us plays that are British,” he laughs. “We’re always having to deal with these damned English accents. I don’t know why she thinks I am capable. What I think she does is look at a play and thinks, ‘Which one is nearly impossible to do. And, let’s give it to Jim.'”

When: Tonight through May 16, 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, 1 p.m. Sunday
Where: Circle Bar B, 1800 Refugio Road, in Goleta
Cost: $20 to $45
Information: (805) 967-1962,

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