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Beloved sleuths hit the stage

“A Study in Scarlet,” produced by Blamos Productions, Friday-Saturday, Aug. 13-14, 20-21, 8 p.m., Sunday, Aug. 22, 2 p.m., Phoenix Performing Arts Centre (409-411 Main St., Duryea). Tickets: $12. Info: 570.457.3589

by Kelly Clisham
Weekender Correspondent

“‘Dr. Watson, Mr. Sherlock Holmes,’ said Stamford, introducing us.”

And the collaboration between two of the world’s most famous crime-fighting colleagues had begun. With this simple sentence in his 1887 novel “A Study in Scarlet,” Sir Arthur Conan Doyle loosed Holmes and Watson to solve mystery upon mystery. The duo teamed up in three other novels — “The Sign of Four,” “The Hound of the Baskervilles” and “The Valley of Fear” — and more than 50 short stories.

The adventures of Holmes and Watson have been brought to life countless times on the stage and on TV. The sleuth and his sidekick have also taken to the big screen, most recently in the 2009 movie starring Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law. While “A Study in Scarlet” brought them together, it was not terribly popular when it was published and is not one of their more dramatized cases today. Still, William Amos, local actor/director and long-time fan of the detective duo, found the story intriguing.

“It’s the world’s introduction to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson and their first case together,” Amos said. “It’s where they meet and where we meet them.”

Amos had been searching for scripts featuring Holmes and Watson, but he couldn’t find any involving the story that brought them together. Also a fan of origin stories, Amos decided to take matters into his own hands.

“I thought it would be a really interesting story to tell,” he said. “When I couldn’t find one, I decided to write it.”

Amos knew he couldn’t bring “A Study in Scarlet” to life on his own, so he enlisted the help of Margaret Walther, his partner in Blamos Productions. Walther did some research and found out that the story and characters were in the public domain, so Amos and the company could proceed without having to pay fees for rights or worrying about copyright.

“It was something I always wanted to do, but I didn’t know I could do it,” Amos said.

With no legal or financial hurdles to worry about, Amos sat down to write.

“I lived and breathed Sherlock Holmes. We spent a year adapting this script,” he shared.

It all went pretty smoothly, for a while.

“It didn’t become overwhelming until I got halfway through the book and found five chapters on Utah,” he said with a laugh.

One of the characters has a significant amount of exposition, and Amos struggled with how to bring it to the stage.

“I had Maggie read it,” he said, and together the two worked the problematic section into a monologue, allowing that particular character a moment in the spotlight.

After 13 drafts, the adaptation of “A Study in Scarlet” was ready for the stage. At that point, Amos set his playwright’s hat aside and took on the job of director. Initially, he was worried that he wouldn’t have enough people to cast the show. The script has 13 characters, which is more than he originally planned. The director was able to leave those worries behind, thanks to a terrific turnout at auditions and the ability to double a few characters.

Now the story is in the cast’s hands, and “A Study in Scarlet” is nearly ready for its debut.

“Once we started rehearsing and everyone started getting themselves into who the characters are and where the characters are going, great things started to happen,” Amos said proudly. “Everybody brought something to the table. It’s really rewarding to see my ideas mix with their ideas and see a really great concoction come to life.”

Amos is overjoyed with his entire cast, but with his leads in particular. John Schugard, an experienced actor and director himself, is playing Holmes.

“I’ve been directed by John three times now,” Amos said. “It’s very bizarre to have the tables turned, but it’s been a real joy. He’s a really humble guy and a really creative guy. He’s doing a bang-up job. He is Sherlock Holmes. He’s got the quirks, he’s got the personality. The only thing John Schugard isn’t that Holmes is is a pompous jerk,” Amos added with a laugh. “He makes it funny, and he makes it fun to watch.”

The director also gives a shout-out to Tom Tomeo, playing Holmes’ iconic sidekick.

“Tommy is a terrific comedic actor, but he plays Dr. Watson really well. Tommy makes a really good straight man. They both shine in there,” Amos said of his leads. “I could go on forever. I don’t think I could praise any of the cast members enough for the work they’re doing. This is some of the most fun I’ve had in theater.”

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Kelly Clisham - Weekender Correspondent  
weekender@theweekender.com