WILLIAMSTOWN -- Sherlock Holmes and his crime-solving partner, Dr. Watson, are on the trail of a murderer in the Poker Flats Field.
The legendary sleuth has returned to the Williamstown Theatre Festival's Free Theatre to celebrate its 25th anniversary with a new theatrical version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's final novel featuring Sherlock Holmes, "The Valley of Fear."
The two-act play, which is running through Saturday and again from Tuesday, July 17 to Friday, July 20, was adapted by Steven Lawson, who penned the original 1987 adaptation of "A Study in Scarlet," which also featured Holmes.
"Back in 1987, the Williamstown Theatre Festival received a grant to do the free outdoor theater as a way to expand our offerings. Initially, it seemed logical to do Shakespeare, but I suggested to Nikos Psacharopoulos, who was the head of the theater at the time, that seeing that 1987 was the centennial of ‘A Study in Scarlet,' the first treatment of Sherlock and Watson in a novel by Conan Doyle, we do it as a play," Lawson said Wednesday. "It turned out to be fun and was a big success. We saw a lot of people we had never seen before at either theater."
The initial production starred Alec Baldwin as Sherlock Holmes and Tim Daly as Jefferson Hope, a pioneer hero.
"This is my eighth season with the Free Theatre, but my first time back since 1996," Lawson said. "In 1988, we did an adaptation of ‘Tom Jones,' where every
In 1996, Lawson adapted Charles Dickin's "Hard Times" into a play that was performed in the courtyard of Mass MoCA.
"It just had the right feel -- the gritty courtyard of the former Sprague Electric," he said. "It was just perfect. Then I didn't do it for a while. We had some very gifted writers and directors come in who decided to explore Eastern myths and fairy tales, as opposed to adapting novels. There were also several years of particularly mean weather, when the shows were lost to rain. When Roger Rees took over as artistic director, he moved the Free Theatre indoors and it took on a very different feeling. It was held on Saturdays and felt like more of a children's show."
But when current Artistic Director Jenny Gersten returned last year and returned the Free Theatre to Poker Flats Field, Lawson saw an opportunity to start talking about its silver anniversary and the return of Holmes and Watson.
"Initially, I was inclined to do Doyle's second novel, ‘The Sign of Four,' but it includes some big battle scenes in India, which I just didn't think were possible to do," he said. "That sent me to ‘The Valley of Fear,' which is the last novel Conan Doyle wrote about Holmes, but it takes place not long after ‘A Study in Scarlet.' Holmes and Watson are now a team, but it's not the middle-aged version. It's also their first discovery of Moriarty [Holme's nemesis]."
For Lawson, adapting the novel also allowed him to stage it with a large cast of 21 actors -- six non-equity actors and 15 apprentices.
"For the apprentices, there are real parts -- speaking roles, not just crowd scenes -- and eight to 10 of them get to double up with parts, playing different characters in each act," he said. "There's also a number of points where we consult the audience. We have a live group of spectators in a very casual setting, so why not get them directly concerned in the case?"
What: ‘The Valley of Fear'
When: 7 p.m., through Saturday, and again July 17 to 20
Where: Poker Flats Field, 45 Stetson Road, Williams College in Williamstown
What to bring: Picnic items, chairs and blankets, a jacket, bug spray
Tickets: Admission is free. Parking and restrooms on-site.
More information: www.wtfestival.org/freetheatre