Back in 1887, Scottish writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle introduced the world to the now-infamous sleuthing mastermind, Sherlock Holmes. More than a century later, playwright Ken Ludwig adapted Doyle’s third crime novel, the well-known Hound of the Baskervilles, as a madcap, sometimes dizzyingly fast-paced farcical comedy, called simply – Baskerville. Directed by Ann Lowe-Barrett and produced by William Powell, this adaptation is currently being performed at the Greenbelt Arts Center to raving audiences.
As the play opens, Sir Charles Baskerville, heir to the family fortune, is strolling near his home on the Moors of Devonshire. A few moments later, we hear deep, angry growls in the distance. Frightened, Sir Charles screams and darts away, attempting to outrun the unseen beast. Meanwhile, at the home of Sherlock Holmes, a mysterious cane has appeared. It is soon revealed that the cane belongs to Doctor Mortimer, a friend of Sir Charles, who informs Sherlock Holmes and his trusty assistant, Watson, of the heir’s demise. Although an investigation has been conducted and a verdict of death by natural causes pronounced, Doctor Mortimer believes there is more to the story, and he wants to enlist Sherlock Holmes’ help. He tells the tale of Hugo Baskerville, a lecherous man who, after capturing and imprisoning a young woman, was allegedly killed by an enormous canine “creature from a nightmare.” Mortimer postulates that this “demon of legend” may have also murdered Sir Charles. He wants Holmes to advise him on how to keep Henry Baskerville – brother of Sir Charles and next in line for the fortune – from meeting the same end.
With a cast of five people playing more than 40 characters, it is imperative to have versatile actors, and this production does not disappoint. As Sherlock Holmes, Sandy Irving has a strong, commanding presence on the stage, and though the show is an ensemble piece, carries it firmly on his shoulders. Bob Singer is solid as the stalwart Dr. Watson. The remaining three actors handle the bulk of the roles. At the top of the play, after the director announces that texting during the show is prohibited, a man who has his nose buried in his phone appears near the front of the stage, claiming he is texting someone who is lost. The director admonishes the man and tells him he will need to get off the phone and become an actor in the show.
That man becomes Actor 1, the excellent Bill Murray (no, not THAT Bill Murray.) Among the roles Murray plays is a larger-than-life, lisping Castilian hotel desk clerk; Sir Charles’ butler, Barrymore, who at times amusingly pulls down a fake black beard to clarify his wife’s difficult-to-understand speech; and Stapleton, a butterfly catcher with a dark side. As Actor 2, Max Pugh is a talented physical comedian who plays many roles, but most notably, Henry Baskerville. With a Texas accent and a white ten-gallon hat, Pugh glides across the stage like he owns the place. Finally, rounding out the cast is the multi-talented Bette Cassatt, who plays Actress 1. She effortlessly switches from character to character – including Mrs. Hudson, Sherlock Holmes’ maid; Barrymore’s thick-accented wife; and even an adolescent boy. She handles a multitude of accents with aplomb and is easily one of the most versatile actors this reviewer has seen. The whole cast worked together wonderfully.
The set is simple – a living room with four doors and a single chair. Throughout the show, this chair is transformed into several different pieces, such as train seating, an opera box and a stagecoach bench. Since the set doesn’t change for the most part, it can be confusing at times to know where specific scenes are taking place. To ease that confusion, one needs only to look at a large screen to the right side of the stage, which projects images representing the Moors, a train station, a hotel, etc. The costumes are wonderful – and amazingly complex for such rapid changes. Special mention should go to the stage hands, Stan Livengood and Tina Waldrup, for their tireless efforts to help the actors change costumes backstage, sometimes in mere seconds.
Overall, Baskerville is an amusing romp through the world of Sherlock Holmes. The production is a tightly-knit ensemble piece that hangs together very well. One important note, however. Because there are so many diverse characters played by the same three actors, it is important to pay close attention to what is happening onstage; otherwise, it’s easy to get lost. However, even if you do get lost, you will be laughing hysterically. So, the important question is, should you come and see this play? Elementary, my dear Watson. Elementary.
Running Time: Approximately 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission
Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery plays through May 6, 2018 at the Greenbelt Arts Center— 123 Centerway in historic Greenbelt MD. For tickets call the box office at (301) 441-8770 or purchase them online.