Reviewed by Gail M. Burns, June, 1999
You have got to go and see the set for this show, and that means that you have got to go and see the show because the set itself, just sitting there, is nothing. You have got to go and see it in action, under the equally awe-inspiring lighting.
The show itself? Well, you know, Holmes, Watson, damsel in distress, death, greed, betrayal, etc, etc, etc. A good mystery. A real spine-chiller. Yadda, yadda, yadda. But that set! Those lights!
And that is actually a very smart way to present a 21 year old pot-boiler. If the production values weren’t so spectacular “The Crucifer of Blood” might garner the polite crowds of regulars and a few folks who love a good mystery. But with that set and those lights the BTF has a real “must-see” show on their hands.
That set is by Rob Odorisio, who also designed the astoundingly beautiful set for BTF’s “An Empty Plate at the Cafe du Grand Boeuf” last season. The set for “Grand Boeuf” was so beautiful that you could sit and look at it for hours, marveling in its intricacy and perfection. His set for “Crucifer” made me sea sick when I first walked in. Its amazements are completely hidden. It doesn’t come alive until the actors are on it.
While Odorisio’s set is a veiled mystery when you first see it, Brian Nason’s lighting magic is already at work. I mentioned that I felt sea sick looking at the set before the play began. That is because Nason has it bathed in light like water – shifting blues and greens and yellows. The set itself is not only raked, but it is at an angle – highest up left and lowest down right. I was quite shocked when the action began and this underwater world of light and cloth, this barren, undulating void, became the Red Fort at Agra, India, all beige and brown and white in a twinkling of the eye.
When you set is in the shape of an enormous cross – severely raked and angled – good direction becomes essential. Christopher Renshaw has provided this in spades. He moves his actors and props smoothly and safely over this treacherous landscape, working with the design elements rather than against them.
I hope I am not giving the impression that the actors and the play are just occupying this splendid space, going through their paces. No spectacle can fill the void created by poor acting or a shoddy script. While “The Crucifer of Blood” is formulaic, it is also entertaining. I wouldn’t dare tell you anything of the plot, or, God forbid, “who dun it”! Go see it and Holmes will explain that it is all elementary.
As a Holmes fan, I took a while to warm up to Stephen Spinella’s portrayal of the great detective, but by the end I was sold. David Adkins played a young Doctor Watson – no whiskers or “by Jove”s – with tenderness, bringing a human side to Holmes endlessly analytical approach. Joanna Going is beautiful and powerful as Irene St.Claire, the obligatory damsel in distress whose plight sends Holmes and Watson on this adventure. And Gary Sloane provides welcome comic relief as Inspector Lestrade.
Alas, James Warwick (Major Alistair Ross), J. Paul Boehmer (Captain Neville St. Claire), and Alex Draper (Jonathan Small) are saddled with cumbersome old-age wigs, make-up and trappings for much of the play. Draper is supposed to be one-legged in his dotage, but only manages to appear that way some of the time. It confuses the mystery when the “one-legged man” has two legs.
Before you pack up grandma and the kids to see this show, I should warn you that it does depict the lowest aspects of human behavior. In the first scene alone there are three on-stage murders. Shots are fired throughout, and enough mineral oil fog is generated to sock in a major airport. Holmes shoots cocaine and an entire scene takes place in a London opium den. The show would certainly be frightening to small children, and you should stay at home if gunfire or the open use of narcotics disturbs you.
But that set! Those lights! I would risk being offended just to see them. Trust me, it is worth it.
“The Crucifer of Blood” runs through July 10 on the Main Stage of the Berkshire Theatre Festival in Stockbridge. The show runs two hours and forty-five minutes with one intermission. Call 413-298-5576 for tickets and information.
copyright Gail M. Burns, 1999