Review: "Mysterious Circumstances" : Who Did It and Why?

  • Jill Weinlein, Chief Los Angeles Critic

Los Angeles, CA - I was intrigued with Brett J. Banakis set while taking my seat inside The Geffen Playhouse Gil Cates Theater to see the world premiere “Mysterious Circumstances.” The stage was dark, yet in the center was an illuminated locked box and above it the words “Based on true events” displayed on a black screen. On either side were two stacks of books with a spotlight on each pile. As soon as the house lights dimmed, that mystery box magically disappeared and the installation of inherent theatricality and special illusions take over.


Based on true events that occurred in 1894 and 2004, Director Matt Shakman discovered a fascinating article in The New Yorker titled "Mysterious Circumstances: The Strange Death of a Sherlock Holmes Fanatic" by David Grann. He pitched the idea to be turned into a play to Executive Director of the Geffen Playhouse Gil Cates Jr. Playwright Michael Mitnick was raised by a Sir Arthur Conan Doyle aficionado and applied his enthusiastic prose to this true story about Richard Lancelyn Green, a world scholar obsessed about Detective Sherlock Holmes.

Shakman along with lighting designer Elizabeth Harper, projection designers Kaitlyn Pietras and Jason H. Thompson and illusion designers Francis Menotti and David Kwong create an exciting show with quick and clever scenes. Highlights include the opening scene with a discovery of Richard’s body on a large carpet; the taxi scene; and Reichebach Falls.

Actors Hugo Armstrong, John Bobek, Austin Durant, Leo Marks, Ramiz Monsef, Helen Sadler and Alan Tudyk brilliantly play multiple characters. Costume designer E.B. Brooks helps with the transformation, especially when adding some facial hair to the male characters.

The music by Jonathan Snipes enhances the mystery and intrigue of Richard Lancelyn Green and Sherlock Holmes played by Emmy nominee Alan Tudyk (Spamalot, Firefly, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).

In one scene Doyle’s dying wife (Helen Sadler) declares to her famous husband, “Thanks to you there is nothing good to read anymore.” Doyle was a prolific writer publishing four novels and more than fifty short stories about Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson.

One of my favorite moments was the banter between Sherlock Holmes and Watson (Ramiz Monsef). Both actors were a joy to watch and Monsef is a gifted comedian in his facial expressions and timing.

The only gripe I have is that I feel this play could be shortened about 10 to 15 minutes.

Something sinister is afoot, and the line “Desperate people walk through the darkness of imagination for a glimmer of hope,” sums up the story. When Richard finally finds out Doyle’s daughter owns the box, he is desperate to have it. His obsession becomes a curse, and his life is threatened. Was his demise in 2004 a murder or did he commit suicide? Only Detective Sherlock Holmes could solve this mystery.



 Written by Michael Mitnick

Inspired by The New Yorker article “Mysterious Circumstances: The Strange Death of a Sherlock Holmes Fanatic” by David Grann

Directed by Matt Shakman

 Previews: Tuesday, June 11 – Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Opening Night: Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Closing Night: Sunday, July 14, 2019


Tickets currently priced at $30.00 - $120.00. Available in person at the Geffen Playhouse box office, by phone at 310.208.5454 or online at Fees may apply. Rush tickets for each day’s performance are made available to the general public 30 minutes before showtime at the box office. $35.00 General / $10.00 Student. Gil Cates Theater at the Geffen Playhouse - 10886 Le Conte Avenue, Los Angeles, CA 90024