Creative, Technically Impressive Comedy
Written by Ken Ludwig, Baskerville, an adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskerville’s, opened at Harlequin Productions in Olympia this weekend. With umpteen interior and exterior scene changes and three actors playing 40 roles, many with different accents, it was a tour-de-force of technical skill and creativity on the part of director Corey McDaniel.
Originally the Hound of the was serialized in The Strand Magazine in 1901, with each chapter ending in a cliff hanger, one year later in 1902, it was printed as a novel. It is one of the most popular of the Sherlock Holmes stories and has been adapted many times for the stage, radio and cinema. Ken Ludwig’s version premiered in 2015 at the Arena Stage in Washington D.C.
Like all Sherlock Holmes stories, Baskerville begins in Sherlock Holmes “rooms” on Baker Street with him displaying his astute powers of observation before the less astute Watson, before a client comes in with a case to be solved.
The client, a Dr. Mortimer, from the county of Devon, brings Holmes and Watson news of the mysterious death of a country squire, Sir Hugo Baskerville, and an 18th Century manuscript describing the unsavory behavior of an ancestor, Sir Hugo Baskerville, who died an equally unsavory death at the hands of vicious hound. The heir, Sir Henry, a distant relative from Texas, is about to arrive to claim his inheritance and Dr. Mortimer fears that he may be in danger.
What ensues is a spoof on melodrama, with a lot of slapstick, creative gags and extremely effective amusing sound effect by Keith Jewell. Equally effective and quite amazing were the scenic design and projection design by Bruce Haasi and John Serembe respectively. Having one basic set with all the changes of scene projected on to a screen, was an inspired choice by the director, Corey McDaniel, and visually was quite beautiful with authentic pictures of late Victorian train stations, gloomy country houses and the beautiful English countryside.
Russell Matthews as Holmes and Nick Hall as Watson, played the same parts and performed well with decent accents. Three other players played about 40 roles between them. John Serembe played Dr. Mortimer and the villain and various other parts, switching characters, costumes, accents and languages with astounding speed and ability. Xander Layden, as Sir Henry, the Texan, Inspector Lestrade, and a host of other characters was equally astonishing in his ability to switch costumes, accents and use physicality to entertain us. Eleise Moore as the only female, played everything from Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ landlady to Sir Henry’s love interest to Sir Charles housekeeper to a few male parts and did it swiftly.
It was a truly great production. My only issue was that although the accents were generally well done, the dialectology was lacking. None of the locals in Devon, who should have spoken with West Country Devon accents, actually did. For those of us who have spent time in the West Country and Devon in particular, it was confusing because why would a housekeeper speak with a German/Mittleuropa accent on Dartmoor in Devon.
But all in all it was a great tribute to Corey McDaniel’s ability to direct a talented group of actors, and pull together a technically difficult show with panache. The audience loved it and there was lots of laughter.