Before he first took stage as Sherlock Holmes, Tal Aviezer was only a casual fan of the world’s most famous detective. Five years later, he knows the franchise and the character like the back of his hand. And he must — the fans keep him on his toes when it comes to his performances.
“They know everything, and people will quiz me if they see me after the show,” Aviezer said.
Aviezer is the artistic director for the Red Monkey Theater Group, a professional theater company that resides at the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Their latest production, “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem,” has been a popular show since the start of their residency in 2012, and has since led to multiple stage adaptations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novels.
“It’s something that we built up to as a company,” Aviezer said. “I think it’s something we didn’t want to start off with this story because the actors needed a chance to grow into their parts and form a rapport.”
In “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem,” Holmes and his companion, John Watson –– played by Joe Laureiro –– experience the ups and downs of a case and eventual confrontation with their evil nemesis, Professor Moriarty, played by Lawrence J. Reina. Throughout the play, Holmes still dominates the stage with his wit and charm, but allows Watson to give the audience a colorful narration of their separate and joint experiences.
As the years of the production progressed, Aviezer said the theater company has expanded and experimented with their technical capabilities to ensure there are no limits to telling a story on an intimately sized stage at the college’s Cahill Theater.
“It’s sort of a testament to the way that our company continues to learn and grow,” he said. “That we’re able to tell some more ambitious stories to the audience.”
As the face of Sherlock Holmes for half a decade, Aviezer said playing the role of a high-energy character in order to keep the audience intrigued has gradually become second nature to him.
“It’s really fortunate and a rare opportunity for a stage actor to get to return to a part in a way that you would if you were in a television series,” he said. “That makes it easier for me as a stage actor to get to return to a character that I’ve now played on four different occasions.
“It’s kind of like putting on a piece of clothing that’s been tailored to fit you or like wearing your favorite jacket. So there’s a little bit of a shortcut because you’ve come to understand certain things about the character that you’re playing, and you’re not starting from scratch every time.”
Aviezer also notes how he feels a responsibility to live up to the expectations of what fans want from Sherlock Holmes, a fan base that grows thanks to popular television series like “Sherlock” on PBS and “Elementary” on CBS.
“People no longer have one fixed idea of what Holmes should look like or exactly how he must behave, so it allows (us) to broaden the interpretation a bit,” he said.
The Red Monkey Theater Group’s relationship with the college has allowed them to work with student interns and apprentices in order to teach the responsibilities that come with running a professional theater company. It also has allowed Aviezer and his professional acting team to give special presentations and excerpts of upcoming shows to students in theater and English classes, immersing them in what they do.
“Their experience with theater varies widely between (theater kids) and other students who have never been to see a play before,” Aviezer said. “I especially like doing shows for audiences with limited exposure to theater. I think it’s really important.”
Aviezer is grateful for the relationship the company has with the college and is optimistic about its future.
“I hope that we’re helping to enhance the College of Mount Saint Vincent as a cultural destination a little bit, and also offer some out of classroom learning opportunities for the students there,” he said.
As for those planning to go see “Sherlock Holmes: The Final Problem,” Aviezer welcomes veteran and newer detective aficionados to get a taste of what the theater company has to offer.
“I hope that for some people it helps them to rediscover the character and become Sherlock Holmes fans,” he said.
“I’d love it if it went full circle and sort of pointed people back towards reading the stories where it all started.”