A small, merry band of actors is taking audiences on a lively, cheery, clever lark of an evening’s entertainment. What is it? It is a sharply produced production of local playwright and multi-Tony Award recipient Ken Ludwig’s newest piece of theatrical bliss: Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.
You may know think you know the story, but join up with Holmes and his intrepid BFF Dr. Watson none-the-less to try to figure it out as it unwinds before your eyes, not your memory.
With this Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, the chase is on and with much joy. It is a fast-paced comedy full of dropped along-the-way clues, purposeful folly, delightfully rendered disguises and, of course, deception. This Baskerville includes about forty very different characters played by a total of six actors.
Yes, the show is based upon Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles. Now don’t roll your eyes and say to yourself, “Not yet again, another Sherlock Holmes? He is on television right now in two quite different renderings” Or perhaps you say to yourself, “I like Basil Rathbone or Jeremy Brent or Robert Downey Jr., why do I need another Sherlock Holmes? Well, this is a production worth your time, especially if you bring your inner-kid along, as well as some family and friends to share in the pleasure.
The pieces of the classic Conan Doyle are there. Worry not, there is an untimely demise, suspicious folk, barking dogs, ex-cons, stolen clothing, a mysterious cane, no end of missteps, love-at-first-sight, family secrets, and chases through the streets of London and the English moors.
What there is new is a freshness to this particular Holmesian world. There is also plenty of theatrical inventiveness conjured by Director Amanda Dehnert from playwright Ludwig’s script. “Comedy is becoming too dependent on literal sets and specific costumes. It feels to me that it needs some air. My hope is that the play will speak to the raw, creative joy of being in a live theatre and telling a compelling story in a wildly new way.” Ludwig wrote in program notes.
There is likability to the characters. This is not a dark overbearing tale of a flawed Holmes and a Jack The Ripper like London. There is a lightness to Holmes himself, as portrayed by a witty, urbane newcomer to Arena, Gregory Wooddell. He has a bit of a joshing personality and a smooth nature. He even gets to spark laughter with his slow take with a few lines.
Dr. Watson, as portrayed by Lucas Hall, is a very civilized, young fellow who too easily endure Holmes’ deductive genius without a major grimace or whimper. Even when asked to take on the dirtier chores of sleuthing he is just too often decently proper.
The greatest enjoyment of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, comes in observing the ensemble scampering about with so much fun. The ensemble is composed of Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn, Jane Pfitsch, and Milo Tindale credited as The Man of Mystery. They take little seriously as they quick change into their various characters. With period costumes by way of Jess Goldstein, marvelous wigs from the work of Leah. J. Loukas and accents with the assistance of dialect coach Gillian Lane-Plescia each of the dozens of characters is quite different. Sure, some characterizations hit the mark better than others, but that is a small quibble.
The Baskerville cast gets to camp it up on a scenic design developed by Daniel Ostling. His design permits the audience to use their own imaginations to best advantage. There is no cluttered #221-B flat with detritus to sort through. But the set is far from sparse; untold numbers of set pieces and props are dropped-in, thrown from the wings, hurled in on casters, lifted up through trap-doors, strewn about, and elevatored-up for the full enjoyment of the audience.
Even the gloom of the moors is very much alive with the excellent sound design of Joshua Horvath and Raymond Nardelli and a terrific lighting design using what appeared to be about 100 lighting instruments from Philip S. Rosenberg. The lights and sound are another “character” to those played by the live actors.
This is a winning evening of enjoyment. Go grab a seat, let your mind open wide, and try to string all the clues dropped along the way. Sure you may well know the final destination, but this is a new road.
We have been with Sherlock a long time, but he and his cohorts are new once again. Why not go sleuthing on the English moors, even if you have before. This is a reinvented Holmes, and I think you will like him and his associates.
Running Time: Two hours with one 15-minute intermission.
Baskerville plays through February 22, 2015 at Arena Stage at The Mead Center for American Theater – 1101 6th Street SW, in Washington, DC. For tickets, call the box office at (202) 488-3300, or purchase them online.
Note: Here are some Arena stage ticket discount programs that might be of interest for any number of different ways to find reduced tickets prices:
Note: Arena is partnering with McCarter Theatre Center in the production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.