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It's elementary that local man would play Watson in Totem Pole show

June 13, 2008|By KATE S. ALEXANDER

GREENCASTLE, Pa. - Paris Peet, a tenured professor of theater at Shippensburg (Pa.) University and one of the stars of the Totem Pole Playhouse production of "Sherlock Holmes, The Final Adventure," glides his BMW Sport Track motorcycle into the cramped Starbucks parking lot in Chambersburg, Pa.

Every head on the air-conditioned side of the glass turns to see the owner of the cherry-red bike that sits gleaming in the best spot on the lot. Revealing his full head of white hair from under his matching cherry helmet, Peet wastes no time browsing the menu. He has been here a few times before.

A few quick exchanges, some verbal high-fives and talk of the summer with the friendly staff, some of whom he appears to know, and he orders classic black coffee, iced for summer, and "one of those" from the bakery display. Noticing my notebook already scribbled with the details of his entrance out of the corner of his eye, he flashes me a smile.

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"You mind if I eat while we talk? Here, have half a doughnut," he says breaking a glazed pastry in two and taking a seat.

Peet is no stranger to the limelight and quickly launches into the tale of how he, a stage actor from Wilmington, Del., came to live in Greencastle and work with future thespians at Shippensburg.

"I had a teacher once tell me I would be a teacher someday and I resented it at the time," he said. "I had the opportunity to teach at the Delaware Institute of Arts and Education while I was a working actor and I found that I really enjoy working with young actors, seeing them evolve and grow."

While Peet teaches full-time at Shippensburg, he said he keeps his skills sharp by taking the stage during the summer months.

This is Peet's third summer in four years at Totem Pole Playhouse. He took last year off to take his eldest son on vacation. When he got the call in February from Totem Pole's Artistic Director Carl Schurr offering him the role of Dr. Watson in the first play of the summer, he knew he would be back on stage this June.

"I was drawn to this play because, as someone who grew up reading the Sherlock Holmes stories, when I saw it was an adaptation by Steven Dietz, a wonderful playwright, I knew I wanted to be involved," he said.

Dietz's play brings Sherlock Holmes, his beloved sidekick Dr. Watson and a cast of colorful characters from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle classics to the stage for a final adventure that pits Holmes against greatest foes: certain death and impassioned love.

Acting has been a passion of Peet's since his grade school appearance in "Thunder on Sycamore Street" by Reginald Rose, adapted for stage by Kristin Sergel.

"Acting asks you to empathize with the character you play, to understand him or her, rationalize their choices and embrace who they are," he said. "I don't feel successful as a teacher asking my students to do that unless I can continue to act."

For all the education of Dr. Watson or Peet, who has his master's of fine arts in acting from the University of South Carolina, it was Dr. Watson's average demeanor, his heart and loyalty that resonated most in Peet.

"Holmes is just so friggin' smart, while Watson's smart, his mind is not nearly as quick and I sympathize with that in Watson; he's average," he said. "But Watson gets the clues of heart that Holmes misses."

Peet said his heart will miss being a part of the whirlwind 11-rehearsal and 21-show run of Sherlock Holmes, which concludes Sunday under the direction of Schurr. He said he is doubly grateful to be able to perform so close to his home and family.

Also starring in the play are Robert Boardman as Sherlock Holmes, Marni Penning as Irene Adler, Robert Sean Fri as Professor Moriarty, Alex Webb as the King of Bohemia, Shirley Ann Kaladjian as Madge Larrabee, Ray Ficca as James Larrabee and Richard Easley as Sid Prince.

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