Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil at Burlington County Footlighters

In the light of a full moon with leaves falling, your correspondent watched Burlington County Footlighters fall into autumn this October 2nd. The company utilized Jim Frazier’s Back Stage to present a show written by local playwrights Brandon Monokian and Kirsten Sughre. Their Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil provided a fitting prelude to Halloween.

The playwrights demonstrated a lot of creativity with this piece. While incorporating the Garden State’s infamous legend, the play contained a parody of literature’s most popular sleuth, an element of intrigue and an abundance of comedy; including an homage to a Scooby Doo ending. These writers even worked in some musical numbers.

They chose an unusual setting for the story. The action took place in the format of an old-time radio show.

Pat Frazer made her directorial debut with Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil. She assembled a wonderful ensemble to bring this entertaining piece to the stage.                       

A murder took place at the 1909 Small-Town Fall Festival. Suspicion fell on the event’s main attraction, the Jersey Devil (played by Rico Esteves). Locals opted to call in the famous detective Herlock Sholmes (Dave Pallas) along with his sidekick Winston (Stephen Kreal) to solve the case.

Dave Pallas has experience portraying popular sleuths. In January 2020, he portrayed one of the Sherlock Holmes characters in Holmes and Watson. During that run, also presented at Burlington County Footlighters, Mr. Pallas performed the deaf, mute and blind incarnation of Holmes. When his character went under hypnosis, he delivered a gripping narrative of the detective’s final battle with his nemesis Dr. Moriarty.

Mr. Monokian and Ms. Sughrue allowed Mr. Pallas the opportunity to display his comedic capabilities. Sholmes (please call him Herlock Sholmes) combined the intellectual acumen of Inspector Clouseau with the crime solving capabilities of Inspector Gadget. The character may have lacked in those areas, but he exhibited extraordinary skill in taking credit for things other people said. Winston provided him ample opportunities to excel at the latter.

Mr. Pallas brought out these traits through his performance. He did so in a fashion that made the character funny instead of obnoxious. His most comical moment occurred when he blew bubbles out of his gourd Calabash pipe. “Smoking is bad for you,” he explained.

Stephen Kreal enacted Winston’s sagacity and frustration with his egocentric partner. He and Mr. Pallas played off of one another very well. Mr. Kreal would explain the details of his findings, Mr. Pallas would tell him to be quiet and then Mr. Pallas would repeat what Mr. Kreal said as if it were his own idea.

Few performers portray mythical creatures. Even fewer get to sing Blues numbers accompanied by a ukulele. Rico Esteves received these rare opportunities in the role of the Jersey Devil. Mr. Esteves added humor and anguish to this terror of the Pine Barrens. His lackluster roar brough out roars of laughter from the audience. Mr. Esteves’ self-described “vegan” monster could only communicate to humans through song. His vocals did so in a style that would’ve pleased the great Son House.

Mike Muller had a very busy evening. He wore so many hats in this show, it’s amazing he could do so with only one head. Mr. Muller selected an entertaining array of voices for the characters of Frank, Legend, Scientist 3, Nick and the Ringmaster.

The script contained some witty parities linking the modern world with the one of 1909. The Ringmaster displayed a drawing of a new horrifying attraction: a hamburger that didn’t contain any meat. He attached the appellation “veggie burger” to this abomination. Another character discussed upgrading her Rotary Phone 6.5 to the newer model.  The show’s conclusion included a reference to the Back Stage’s last production: a series on one act plays written by David Ives. Narrator Wayne Renbjor said, “Only bad things happen in Philadelphia.”

The set consisted of a radio show. The performers sat several feet apart. Most wore black, but some utilized clever costuming. Mr. Esteves wore an oversized pair of bat’s wings and added a fedora to the Jersey Devil’s persona. Mr. Pallas attired himself in a trench coat complete with deerstalker hat. Mr. Muller fittingly put on a series of hats to reflect which character he portrayed at the time.  

Wayne Renbjor enhanced the performance through his melodic narration. Strong vocal skills must be a Renbjor family trait. Jill Renbjor used an excellent nasal accent for one of her characters.

Other performers included: MacKenzie Smith, Becky Mosely and Lisa Croce. Chrissy Wick provided stage management.

Burlington County Footlighters enforced its COVID-19 safety measures. The performance took place upon the outdoor Back Stage. All audience members had their temperatures taken at the door. A staff member escorted each patron to the seating area and measured six feet between all attendees. Everyone brought their own chair or blanket upon which to sit. No snacks or programs were distributed and tickets were scanned at the door. The company required all attendees to wear masks when not in their designated seating place.  

“Who would have thought violence would be so entertaining?” MacKenzie Smith’s Unpaid Intern asked. The answer: this audience did. It’s scary that there are so few opportunities to see Herlock Sholmes and the Mysterious Case of the Jersey Devil after this weekend.

The show runs through October 10th at Burlington County Footlighters. For more information, consult their website at: https://bcfootlighters.com/.   

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