Review: ‘Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson–Apt. 2B’ at Portland Center Stage

Playwright Kate Hamill’s witty, relevant, gender-flipped, pandemic-set adaptation of Sherlock Holmes runs through February 12.

By Isabel Lemus Kristensen February 1, 2023

Ashley Song (left) as Sherlock Holmes, with Dana Green as the deceased and Kimberly Chatterjee as Dr. Joan Watson in Ms. Holmes & Ms. Watson - Apt. 2B at Portland Center Stage

Sherlock Holmes’s 136-year-old love affair with solving mysteries continues in Portland Center Stage’s production of Ms. Holmes and Ms. WatsonApt. 2B. This time, playwright Kate Hamill welcomes us back to a semifamiliar setting—Sherlock’s cluttered Baker Street flat—but brilliantly reimagines Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian-era stories, bringing the crime-fighting duo of Holmes and Watson into today’s pandemic-transformed world.  

Apt. 2B “is not a period piece,” the audience is warned in the first scene. It’s spring 2021, and Dr. Joan Watson, a former ER doctor and recent divorcee from America, has just moved across the pond, searching for a renewed sense of purpose while coping with the burnout and trauma of being a health care worker during the height of the pandemic. Watson is in a “transitional phase,” as she puts it. It’s a line that deeply resonates, capturing the experience of being stuck in a sort of limbo, of not being able to return to your life before the pandemic or look forward to what lies ahead.  

Hamill—who developed the play at PCS’s JAW New Play Festival in 2021 in partnership with Kansas City Repertory Theatre—pays homage to Doyle’s mysteries while using a feminist lens to tackle contemporary issues of gender, revenge porn, the dark web economy, and the pandemic's toll—and she does so with incredible care and wit.  

“I actually think what Kate does is so special and unique, because not only does she make the leads women, but she also gives them all of the things that male leads in many adaptations get,” says PCS artistic director Marissa Wolf, “which is like brilliance and intellectual prowess matched with a sort of buddy-comedy humor.”  

Darius Pierce (from left), Ashley Song, and Kimberly Chatterjee

Apt. 2B is sharp, playful, and moves at a rapid-fire pace with hilarious stage-combat fight scenes and slapstick physical comedy. Audiences are also treated to scenic designer Carey Wong’s eclectic set littered with props galore, resembling the combination of “a curio shop with old items from the 18th century and a gross sort of bachelor-pad college dorm room,” Wolf says.  

At the center of the play is a celebration of Holmes and Watson’s friendship—one that teaches us that empathy is not a weakness ... even if it causes you to keel over at the sight of other people’s suffering, as Watson does at times.  

Ashley Song clearly brings her heart and soul to the role of Holmes, embodying the character’s boundless, bouncing-off-the-walls energy as she obsessively searches for clues. Song’s Holmes is balanced out by Kimberly Chatterjee’s emotionally exhausted Watson, who forms a profound, perhaps slightly dysfunctional bond with Holmes, despite all of her eccentricities.  

Throughout their investigations, the duo encounters familiar adversaries and allies—including a cunning Irene Adler in a hot-pink leather getup and the determined, overeager Lestrade—played by Dana Green and Darius Pierce, respectively, both of whom show exceptional range as they shift between multiple roles. 

“There are wonderful elements that people can really recognize about these iconic characters, but we really approached it as just, like, building these humans from the ground up and finding who they are,” Wolf says.  

Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson–Apt. 2B brings poignancy and humor to the stories of Sherlock Holmes, offering audience members the chance to not only laugh together, but to also “be human together,” as Wolf remarks. “I think that this play gives space for a sort of wide, rich humanity for all to see it.”  

Ms. Holmes and Ms. Watson–Apt. 2B 

Various times Wed–Sun through Feb 12 | Portland Center Stage, $25–86