Detective Sherlock Holmes and his assistant are both literary legends. But in Westfield High’s upcoming Cappies play, they’re portrayed as women, for an intriguing new spin on the story.
“Looking through a feminist lens, we can show what it was like in Victorian-era London for women trying to protect other women from various forms of injustice and abuse,” said Director Enza Giannone-Hosig. “And one of the messages is ‘Don’t underestimate the power and intelligence of women.’”
Show times are Thursday-Friday, Nov. 16-17, at 7 p.m., and Saturday, Nov. 18, at 2 and 7 p.m. Tickets are $15, adults; $10 students (with I.D.s), at the door or via westfieldtheatre.com.
Giannone-Hosig said her tech students were really excited about all the technical elements this play could have, and her actors were thrilled to sink their teeth into highly dramatic material. “Because it’s a period piece, we created a set, costumes, sound, props and lighting that are very realistic and truly immerse the audience into the time period,” she said.
With a cast and crew of about 50, the show will feature elaborate clothing, and the tech crew is recreating the sounds and sights of rainy, foggy London. Scenes will take place in Sherlock’s iconic home, 221-B, as well as at Scotland Yard, hospitals (including an insane asylum), and in the Victorian houses of London’s middle and upper class.
“It’s nice seeing the students mature into playing something so dramatic and with such heavy themes,” said Giannone-Hosig. “A lot of seniors are in the cast – many of whom started at Westfield with me virtually during the pandemic. So they’ve really come a long way, and I’m proud to see how much they’ve grown. There’s also a talented crew of seniors passing on their skills to a new crop of techies.”
Portraying Miss Sherlock Holmes is senior Zoe Brennan. “She’s incredibly intelligent – a once-in-a-generation genius,” said Brennan. “The show’s premise is what it would be like if both Holmes and his assistant, Watson, were women. But it also explores the fact that – although Holmes is a detective and helps people – society tries to keep her from doing that. So she’s mainly helping women, not men.”
Brennan said Holmes can be a bit forgetful of people, not understand social cues and sometimes lost in her own world. She also has a hard time turning her acquaintances into friends.
“I’m loving playing her, but lots of her dialogue is verbose and difficult, and she has a tendency to over-explain things,” she said. “But it’s fun to play her because, when she goes off on those tangents, she gets really animated and excited – and in that respect, she’s a lot like me. It’s my first lead in a full-length show, and it’s been a lot of work, but also incredibly rewarding.”
As for the audience, Brennan said people “will love the mystery plot and trying to figure it out. And our technical elements like rain, surround sound and a moving set will put them right into London, for sure.
Senior Mackenzie Vance plays Lizzie Chapman, who hires Holmes to find out who sent her threatening letters about her husband, Thomas. “Lizzie is hardworking and grew up poor,” said Vance. “She worked as a maid for her future husband’s family. She’s in love with him, but he treats his marriage more like a business. And she’s in distress, trying to figure out who wrote these letters warning her about the man Thomas truly is. They say his first two wives were killed and she could be next.”
Yet there’s more to Vance’s character than meets the eye, and she’s enjoying playing someone with a mysterious secret. “It’s a change of pace and an acting challenge for me,” she said. “It’s also an important role showcasing the hold husbands had on their wives back then.”
Vance said audiences will be quickly taken to Victorian London through the costumes, scenery, accents, lighting and special effects. “Everyone loves a good mystery,” she said. “And it’s a great opportunity to see a woman in the role of Sherlock and to see this iconic story portrayed from a woman’s point of view.”
Playing Thomas Chapman is senior Thomas Craypoff. “He’s close to an upper-class person,” said Craypoff. “He’s also conniving and does everything with malicious intent. He saw a chance to move up in the world and took it. He’s an evil detective and doesn’t care for his wife as much as she does for him.”
It’s a challenging role for Craypoff because, previously, he’s mainly played comedic parts. And that’s why he likes it so much. “Thomas is a serious villain, so it’s a big shift for me and is also so different from my everyday life,” he explained. “And it lets me explore another way of acting and being more dramatic.”
Noting the popularity of Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Craypoff said this one stands out because of its themes of feminism and woman empowerment. “Audiences will also like the 1800s London setting, with dark alleyways and sinister lighting,” he said. “We put lots of work into this show and we hope everyone will come see it.”
Senior Yishak Kelkay portrays Edwin Greener, who starts out as a henchman for Thomas Chapman. “But he doesn’t really want to do it because he has a set of morals that don’t align with that job,” said Kelkay. “He’s firm, stern and militaristic. But later on, you see he’s really a good guy in a bad situation. He eventually softens and becomes more friendly and agreeable.”
Kelkay said his role is both fun and challenging because “It’s hard to initially show his nice side to the audience because he’s the muscle to Chapman’s grand scheme. And I like playing complex characters and portraying the shift where you can see their vulnerability.”
He said audiences will “definitely like the deeper message behind this show and learning about the situation for women in the 1800s. Women’s rights and equal rights weren’t what we have today – and we’ve almost forgotten the struggles people went through so they could have these rights.”