Sir Arthur Conan Doyle would be interested to see how well his characters Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are still doing so long after he first gave them life in his 1887 novel "A Study in Scarlet." Having had enough of the dynamic duo he featured in four novels and more than 50 stories, he tried to kill off Sherlock and his arch-enemy Professor Moriarty in 1893 by sending them both to their deaths over Reichenbach Falls in "The Final Problem."
But public outcry was so great that he brought Sherlock back, went on to write "The Hound of the Baskervilles," and finally published his last Holmes-and-Watson-centered story in 1927.
The two have been pop-culture icons in three different centuries, showing up in stories, novels, plays and films by dozens of writers drawn to the challenge of inventing new adventures for Conan Doyle's beloved "dick and doc" team. Now North Coast Repertory Theatre is presenting "Holmes and Watson," a triple-threat, post-Reichenbach Falls plece featuring three possible Holmeses and a Watson in 85 minutes of intricate plotting.
Written by Jeffrey Hatcher — who also did the screenplay for the 2015 film "Mr. Holmes," with Ian McKellen as an aged Sherlock — "H&W" involves some strange characters and asks the big question: Which of these men is the real Sherlock Holmes?
Here's how things start: It's several years since Holmes and Moriarty had their final fallout. Though their bodies have never been found, they're presumed dead, but many fame-seekers have popped up claiming to be Sherlock, and every time, Dr. Watson is called in to prove them wrong. Now there's a telegram, from the head of a remote asylum, where suddenly three patients are claiming to be Sherlock Holmes.
A whole new game is afoot, and Watson is on his way to see what's what.
Deftly directed by David Ellenstein, "H&W" keeps its skillful cast of seven — most of them playing multiple roles — moving along at a brisk pace, all the way down to the wholly unexpected ending. No way you'll ever guess what happens, unless you're clairvoyant. Sherlock-aholics will love this crowd-pleasing West Coast premiere.
• IF YOU GO: "Holmes & Watson" runs through Nov.18, 2018 at North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Drive, Solana Beach. Tickets $42-$53. $20 rush tickets before performances when available. (858) 481-1055. northcoastrep.org