Victor Cahn got such a big kick out of portraying Sherlock Holmes back in 2006 that the impulse to bring him back to life was irresistible.
Well, Holmes isn’t actually a living and breathing person, and never was for that matter, but when you talk to Cahn you tend to forget those details.
“I’ve liked Sherlock Holmes since I was a young boy, and like everyone else I find him eternally interesting,” said Cahn, who will perform his own one-man show, “Sherlock Solo,” beginning tonight at Curtain Call Theatre and running through April 11. “He has this great intellect and this great sense of morality. There’s something very reliable about him. He’s something you can believe in.”
The creation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle back in the late 19th century, Sherlock Holmes is one of the most popular literary figures in history. Cahn, an English professor at Skidmore College in Saratoga Springs for 27 years, added to the ever-growing Sherlockonia collection with his own one-man show about the genius detective that ran off-Broadway at the Resonance Ensemble in New York City in January and February of 2008. He had earlier done three performances of the show at Albany Civic Theater, where he had also played Holmes in the group’s 2006 production of “The West End Horror.”
WHERE: Curtain Call Theatre, 210 Old Loudon Road, Latham
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. tonight, 8 p.m. Friday, 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday, through April 11
HOW MUCH: $20
MORE INFO: 877-7529 or visit www.curtaincalltheatre.com
“I had such a good time playing Holmes I just didn’t want to lose the character,” said Cahn. “He’d always been a favorite of mine anyway, so I said to myself, ‘I really should write a one-man show about Holmes and play the part myself.’ So, I managed to write it and performed it a couple of times locally and experimented with it, seeing how the audiences liked it.”
The local audiences liked it and when Rachel Reiner of Resonance Ensemble saw a videotape of Cahn’s performance, she recruited him to do it at her theater in New York. It wasn’t Cahn’s first play that visited off-Broadway. His other works to be produced in New York including “Fit to Kill,” recently published by Samuel French Inc., “Roses in December” and “Embraceable Me.”
“It went very nicely and I enjoyed myself enormously,” Cahn said of his New York experience. “I got some nice reviews, and I had people come from all parts of my life to watch the play; former students, former colleagues, old friends and even one person from high school. It really was a wonderful experience for me.”
The play is set in a lecture hall somewhere with Holmes the guest speaker having re-emerged from retirement to discuss his career.
“One of my conceits is that Holmes was something of an actor during his youth, so I have put that in the play and have him moving from character to character as he relates a story about one of his unsolved cases,” said Cahn. “It involves a young woman who proves to be a very unnerving presence in Holmes’ life.”
Cahn does all the characters and even plays the violin from time to time, just like Holmes.
“I loved manufacturing his background, and I mention early in the play how if you’re going to understand Sherlock Holmes, you have to know the history of my early life,” said Cahn. “So I go back to him being a boy, to playing the violin as a youth, and I do all the characters. Sometimes there’s three different people up on stage and I’m doing all of them.”
You might recognize some of the lines from Cahn’s play, but for the most part “Sherlock Solo” is a completely original work.
“The story is definitely mine, but some of the lines I use are taken from the stories written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,” said Cahn. “It’s a technically simple play, just me and the violin for about 90 minutes with no intermission.”
“Sherlock Solo” is one of eight plays by Cahn that have been produced, and he just recently published a book, “Classroom Virtuoso: Recollection of a Life in Learning.”
“It’s about all the different things I’ve done and learned, mostly about teaching, but also music and the theater,” said Cahn.
“I’m a solitary figure and that allows me to write, and I’m writing all the time and thoroughly enjoying it. I think that’s one reason why Holmes is so appealing to me. Despite his friendship with Dr. Watson, I see him as a solitary figure, and I see a little bit of myself in him.”
Cahn grew up in New York City, went to Columbia University for his undergraduate degree and went on to earn two graduate degrees from New York University, both in English. He is single, and when he isn’t writing or teaching or performing, he’s practicing his violin or listening to music. A Saratoga Springs resident, Cahn also enjoys a game of golf now and then, and refers to himself as a table tennis aficionado.
Cahn is currently teaching three different courses at Skidmore involving the art of reading plays, the history of drama, and Shakespearean tragedies. He has long been involved in Theater Voices, an Albany-based group that does staged readings of plays, and he’s also had a long working relationship with Carol Max, founder of Curtain Call Theatre.
“Victor has been involved with our theater since the beginning, even way back when we were starting out as a dinner theater in 1994,” said Max. “He did a great job with it in New York, and I thought having his play here would be a great idea for our audience. Everyone seems really intrigued by Sherlock Holmes. People are always fascinated with him.”
For Cahn, that fascination began as a kid watching Basil Rathbone play Holmes in the movies.
“He’s my favorite Holmes, probably because I grew up watching him play Holmes in the movies,” said Cahn. “I loved his jagged delivery, his whole manner. I thought he embodied Holmes perfectly.”
Cahn actually met Rathbone and his wife during a concert at Carnegie Hall in New York City in the 1960s.
“I recognized him, told him I was a big fan, and he was absolutely charming,” said Cahn. “It was obvious to me he didn’t want to talk about Holmes, but he was very happy to talk about music.”