It was a good idea for Katie Forgette, in her 2009 play “Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily,” to make one of the characters Oscar Wilde. But it would have been a better idea for her to make Holmes and Wilde a detective team, solving crimes through a combination of Holmes’ supernatural powers of deduction and Wilde’s cleverness and charm. Instead, in the play — which the Centenary Stage Company is currently presenting at the Sitnik Theater in Hackettstown — Wilde stands by, offering occasional witticisms (“Forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much,” “Isn’t it enough that life is badly cast—must plays be, too?”) as Holmes does all the work.
It would have been a particularly good idea to give Wilde more to do because Forgette’s Holmes, played here by Colin Ryan, is less of an enigma than a smug know-it-all. Wilde (played by Joseph McGranaghan), with his long hair, colorful clothes and impish interjections, enlivens every scene he is in.
Director Carl Wallnau takes a straightforward approach to the material, and set and costume designer Ashleigh Poteat does a good job of conjuring some 1890s London atmosphere; a rotating stage helps make the scene change quick and painless.
The plot has Wilde seeking out the services of Holmes for his friend, actress Lillie Langtry (Sandy York). A former mistress of the Prince of Wales (who later became King Edward VII), she has been robbed of some old letters from him, and is being blackmailed. If they ever were published, it would be embarrassing for the Royals.
(In real life, by the way, Langtry and the Prince really did have an affair, and Langtry and Wilde were indeed friends. At least some of the epigrams uttered by the Wilde character in this play were actually written by him, as well).
Joining them in the cast of characters are Holmes’ stolid sidekick, Dr. Watson (David Sitler), who is amusingly smitten with Langtry; Holmes’ evil archrival Professor Moriarty (Nicholas Wilder), who, at one point, engages in a sword duel with him; and Langtry’s assistant, Mrs. Tory (Amy Griffin), who may have a secret or two of her own.
Too much of the action takes place offstage, and is explained to us by characters, later. And a scene in which Holmes disguises himself as a woman is ridiculous: We’re not fooled for a second, so it’s hard to believe that the other characters are. Furthermore, how could a genius such as Holmes not realize what a bad job he’s done at disguising himself?
There may be renewed interest, these days, in Holmes, primarily because of the fresh approaches that the TV shows “Elementary” and “Sherlock” have come up with. Forgette’s best chance of coming up with something equally fresh herself, though, was Wilde, and she squandered it.
Why? I guess it’s a mystery.
“Sherlock Holmes and the Case of the Jersey Lily” will be at the Sitnik Theater through Oct. 23; visit centenarystageco.org.