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An evening with Sherlock Holmes

By Ben Calwell, Metro Reporter
BEN CALWELL | Metro John Johnson, right, as Sherlock Holmes, and Ronn Smith as Dr. Watson, portrayed the famous fictional characters during an “Evening in Baker Street: The Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson” April 6 at the Cross Lanes Branch Library. The two-man program is an Astral Theatre Collective production.
John Johnson, right, and Ronn Smith, as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson discuss one of their famous cases during an Astral Theatre Collective production April 6 at the Cross Lanes Branch Library.
Neidlinger

There was a cozy hearth, briar pipes ready for smoking and tales of mystery shared by two old friends.

On a windy Thursday evening, April 6, the Cross Lanes Branch Library became the Baker Street setting for famed literary detective Sherlock Holmes and his trusted friend and colleague, Dr. John Watson.

“An Evening in Baker Street: The Reminiscences of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson” featured St. Albans resident John Johnson as Sherlock Holmes and Ronn Smith of Teays Valley as Dr. Watson. The two are part of the recently established Astral Theatre Collective, which Johnson founded.

“This is another Astral Theatre presentation,” Johnson said, as he prepared for the Cross Lanes library program.

He and Smith have also presented their two-man show at the St. Albans Branch Library. Johnson said libraries are fitting venues for the Holmes-Watson program, which are based on the stories of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

“It was a shoe-in to do something for literature and bringing Holmes to the libraries. I’m working with the main branch (of the Kanawha County Public Library) trying to figure out where to go next,” Johnson said.

The Astral Theatre Collective also has a “Jane Austen production that we’re trying to get out there, as well.”

Last year, the Astral Theatre Collective presented an original play titled “Sherlock Holmes and the Beast of Whitechapel” at the Alban Arts Center in St. Albans. It was written by Johnson and by his friend and filmmaker, Lawrence Burgess.

Johnson said he grew up enjoying the work of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, as well as the work of Bram Stoker, Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley. The Astral Theatre Collective, he said, seeks to focus on tales of mystery and imagination.

Johnson said he and Smith enjoy performing their roles as Holmes and Watson in the smaller settings that libraries provide.

“We love this, the smaller venues, where we can spend some time talking” with audience members.

For the first half-hour of the “Evening in Baker Street” presentation, Holmes and Watson discuss some of their favorite cases and reminisce about their many adventures together.

“It’s just a conversation between Holmes and Watson -- they’re reminicing about the cases that have gone by.”

They discuss, among other cases, “The Hound of The Baskervilles” and “A Study in Scarlet.”

“There’s a little play-around, and I do brandish a pistol,” Johnson said.

Prior to the program, Smith, as Watson, stood in front of a mock-up of a fireplace and spoke about his interest in the Watson character. He said he’s not the Holmes scholar that Johnson is, but that he’s grown to appreciate the Watson character.

“He’s such an iconic figure -- Holmes and Watson. He’s a legendary figure, so it’s kind of hard to pass up the offer when someone says, ‘Would you like to play Watson?’”

Smith said his knowledge of Watson comes mostly from watching the various actors who have portrayed the character over the past many decades, including Nigel Bruce’s portrayal of Watson in the Basil Rathbone series of Holmes films from the 1930s and ‘40s.

“I try to portray him as the proper English gentleman,” Smith said.

For the last half-hour, Johnson and Smith, as themselves, took questions from the audience. Audience members complimented the two men on their excellent British accents.

Smith said he perfected his accent by simply listening and practicing. Johnson said practicing the accent is key, so that it becomes second nature.

Prior to the performance, John Neidlinger, of The Norwood Builders, a local Sherlock Holmes Society chapter, introduced the program to the audience. The Norwood Builders meets at 6 p.m. on the third Tuesday of each month, September through May, at the South Charleston Public Library.

At the meetings, “we’ll have a video presentation, we’ll have an old-time radio presentation and we’ll have discussions on the stories,” Neidlinger said.

For more information, visit the Astral Theatre Collective’s Facebook page or visit www.astraltheatrecollective.wordpress.com.

For more information about The Norwood Builders of the Sherlock Holmes Society, call 304-757-5391.


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