BENNINGTON, Vt. -- The game's afoot at Oldcastle Theatre Company, where Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are caught up in a diabolical plot in "Sherlock Holmes -- Knight's Gambit," a new play by Oldcastle veteran Paul Falzone.
The play opens tonight at 8 and is scheduled to run through Oct. 20 before moving on to Bickford Theatre in Morristown, N.J.
"It's (got) gunshots, explosions, a murder-mystery wrapped within a murder-mystery, international intrigue," Falzone said as he guardedly described his play during an interview in the second floor play library at Oldcastle's new home at 331 Main St.
"Sherlock Holmes -- Knight's Gambit" comes to Oldcastle from Cider Mill Playhouse in Endicott, N.Y. where, Falzone said, he put the actors and their director through their paces for the play's premiere.
Falzone, a founding member of Oldcastle, says he learned a good deal from that production. He's been reshaping the play here -- cutting, rewriting.
"It's almost finished," he said.
This co-production -- the third between Oldcastle and Bickford -- is being directed by Oldcastle's founding producing director Eric Peterson. The cast includes Bill Tatum, Richard Howe, Scott McGregor and, as Holmes, Nick Plakias, who came into the show as a replacement for Nigel Gore -- who had to leave because of an illness in his family -- only a day and half before the start of rehearsals.
"Sherlock Holmes -- Knight's Gambit" is an original story, not based on any of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Holmes stories.
An actor as well as a playwright and director, Falzone says he got the idea for "Knight's Gambit" last year while he was appearing in a play at Cider Mill.
"I saw these posters the theater had of other Sherlock Holmes plays they had done, like ‘Crucifer of Blood,' for example, and I began thinking ‘If I could write a small-cast, one-set play about Sherlock Holmes, it would be a boon for small theaters. Not long after, I saw a chess board and right away I had a plot."
He wrote the play in three weeks.
"I obsessed about it," Falzone said.
Falzone knows he's taking on a hugely iconic figure in Holmes. The lore that has grown up around Holmes; the long, long list of actors who have portrayed him on screen and television and stage; the appeal Holmes holds for audiences across time and generations is, Falzone believes, unlike any other figure in crime fiction. Indeed, for the most devout followers of Doyle's late-Victorian-early-Edwardian era hero, the line between fiction and real life is virtually non-existent.
"He's a brilliant character, quirky," Falzone says as he considers the reasons for Holmes' enduring appeal. Falzone describes Holmes' longtime associate, Dr. Watson, as someone who, while not inherently smart, has a way of "clarifying things for this brilliant man, crystallizing things in Holmes' mind."
The biggest challenges in producing "Knight's Gambit," Peterson said in a separate interview, have to do, first, with incorporating near-daily changes and rewrites and, second, with getting the physical elements -- gunplay and fighting -- precise.
"It's not like television where you can go back and do it again (even before a live audience). In theater," Peterson said, "you've got to get it right at that moment."
For Falzone, writing a murder-mystery involves a precision "that doesn't occur with any other play. It's almost mathematical," he said.
"I started with a simple idea. I know what the bad guys are going to do. Then you have to make choices. You have to decide what to reveal when.
"It has to be entertaining. It has to have humor, comedy. People laugh at things that happen to them. Heck, people laugh at funerals.
"Above all, did I give (the audience) a chance? Did I give people the tools to figure this out?"