REVIEWSREVIEWS BYTheatre ReviewsTom Williams

The Sign of the Four

By Sir Arthur Conan DoyleThe sign of the four by Mccabe

Adapted and Directed by Terry McCabe

At City Lit theater, Chicago

Suspenseful Sherlock Holmes novel come to life in terrific City Lit production

I love a complex who-done-it and when you combine Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Terry McCabe and Don Bender, you have the ingredients of a wonderful evening of mystery theatre. The Sign of the Four, Doyle’s 1890 second Holmes novel centers on the investigation of a murder by poison dart, a search for a stolen Indian treasure as well as being a introductory character sketch of both Holmes (Don Bender) and Dr. Watson (Jerry Bloom).  The central conceit of the Holmes sage – that Holmes and Watson live together and share the adventures toward solving London crimes is presented.

SIGN OF THE FOUR by Doyle, adapted by mcCabe

Dr. Watson acts as narrator and Holmes emerges as a superhero with amazing capabilities to deductive reasoning from the most miniscule information or evidence. The foibles of Holmes – his violin playing – his injecting of cocaine – his aversion to woman – and his condescension toward Watson’s chronicles of their cases – are well established here. Bender plays the eccentric snob Holmes with deft aplomb. Jerry Bloom is the ultimate straight man to Holmes. The two are a potent team.

Adapter/director Terry McCabe has cast a team of wonderfully adaptable supporting cast members who play Indians, sailors, innkeepers, army officers and a bumbling London detective. This cast nimbly sport a rich assortment of British and Indian accents as they play their colorful characters full out.  When Miss Mary Morstan (Shawna Tucker) comes to Holmes with her mystery, Holmes on longer needs his drug fix to stimulate his inquisitive mind.

What happened in India and later in London  to Thaddeus Sholto (David Fink), Major John Solto (Nick Goodman) and Captain Morstan (Drew Longo) that emerged as parts of ‘the sign of the four”? London detective Athelney Jones (Ed Rutherford) seeks Holmes help when he is baffled by the murder. The three person team ultimately searches for their prime suspect – Jonathan Small (Greg Kolack). A high speed boat chase down the Thames highlights the hunt for the killer. Why and where is the treasure dominates.

In exquisite detail, The Sign of the Four’s production values that include a condensed set (by James Ogden) that includes several levels and a spinning round platform adds drama to the suspense. Terrific performances yield much including Greg Kolack’s rich Irish brogue as he unravels the mystery in a fine show ending monologue rich in detail.  Ed Rutherford’s Jones was effective as was Jerry Bloom’s Watson. But Don Binder’s totally engaging and larger-than-life portrayal of Sherlock Holmes dominates.  The Sign of the Four is a tad complex and the ending necessitates your complete attention but once you sharpen your listening skills, the mystery grabs you and hold on until the end. Holmes lovers and suspense theatre patrons will enjoy this well acted and handsome production.  Terry McCabe sure has a handle on Doyle’s eccentric character.


Tom Williams

Talk Theatre in Chicago podcast

For more info checkout The Sign of the Four page on

At City Lit Theater, 1020 W. Bryn Mawr, Chicago, IL, Call 773-293-3682,, tickets $25, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 pm, Sundays at 3 pm , special Thursdays at 8 pm on June 23 & 30, running time is 2 hours, 10 minutes with intermission, through July 3, 2011

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