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Sherlock Holmes & The Case of the Invincible Man

 “I am Sherlock Holmes. That is a name and reputation well known throughout these British Isles and, I daresay, beyond them.”

— SHERLOCK HOLMES, from Sherlock’s Last Case

In December of 1893, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wrote in his diary, “Killed Sherlock.”After writing two novels and 23 short stories centering on the detective, Conan Doyle worried that Sherlock Holmes was distracting him from writing serious literature and resolved that he had to die. The aforementioned, two-word diary entry coincided with the publication of “The Adventure of the Final Problem.”The story was to be the final Sherlock Holmes chapter, ending with Holmes and his nemesis Professor Moriarty fatally falling over the Reichenbach Falls into a“dreadful cauldron of swirling water and seething foam.”

“The Final Problem” should have been Sherlock’s last case, but his name and reputation saved him.

Almost immediately after the publication of “The Adventure of the Final Problem,” 20,000 readers of The Strand Magazine cancelled their subscription to protest the publication of the story. Conan Doyle received piles and piles of hate mail — one woman famously sent him a letter that began with, “You brute!” But the writer remained steadfast explaining, “I couldn’t revive him if I would, at least not for years, for I have had such an overdose of him that I feel towards him as I do towards pâté de foie gras, of which I once ate too much, so that the name of it gives me a sickly feeling to this day.”

Eventually he caved. Under pressure from the public and his publishers, Conan Doyle “revived” Sherlock in his 1903 story “The Adventure of the Empty House” by revealing that the detective faked his own death, much to Watson’s joy and relief. Ultimately, because of his loyal, dedicated fanbase, Sherlock Holmes survived Arthur Conan Doyle’s pen leaving the detective poised to become one of the most popular subjects of pastiche at the hands of his loyal, dedicated fans.

Fans like Charles Marowitz.

With a first draft written in just 14 days, Sherlock’s Last Case was created to fill a blank slot in London’s Open Space Theater’s season. The first iteration was an inescapably dark one-act that ended in a gruesome, Grand Guignol-esque double murder that involved inverted corpses. It was Conan Doyle’s Sherlock subverted by overwhelming cynicism and cruelty, with less attention given to the power at the heart of the stories — Sherlock and Watson’s bond.

During the revision of his first draft, Marowitz discovered that he wanted to write a play about the moral combat between arrogance and subjugation, between ego and envy, between what the public sees and what happens behind closed doors. He wanted the play to help us imagine a world where Moriarty kept himself busy with more than diabolical plots, a world where Watson reacted to Sherlock’s reappearance with more complicated emotions than joy and relief, a world that didn’t end in a double murder. Through this re-imagining he provides us with a new sense of delight, appreciation, and insight into the Conan Doyle mythos we love so much.

In the introduction to the final draft of Sherlock’s Last Case — the one being performed here at the Huntington — Marowitz asserts that “there is a parodicelement in the work without which much of the humor must fall by the wayside.”He also reminds us that “what is being parodied is not only the mythos of the Holmes-Watson relationship, but also the melodramatic conventions of the late 19th century” which is a good way to say that nothing in the Sherlock Holmes canon is safe from Marowitz’s wit.

This is not Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock anymore.

— J. SEBASTIÁN ALBERDI


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