Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.Directed by Jen Wineman. Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman.
Dave Quay as Watson, Liz Wisan as Holmes, Brian Owen as the Doctor; photo: provided
"Reminds me of my Mama's funeral. . .without the liquor."
Raji Ahsan as Sir Henry, Brian Owen and Caitlin Clouthier as the Stapletons; photo: provided
How many times will we see plays based on Arthur Conan Doyle's novella "The Hound of The Baskervilles"? How many times will they be as funny as Ken Ludwig's version as presented at the Dorset Theatre Festival in Dorset, Vermont? I would wager that the first answer is uncounted hundreds while the answer to the second question is never. On a champion set designed by Alexander Woodward, the current company of five actors play 46 different roles in the two hour play. Dave Quay is a young, virile and handsome Dr. John Watson and Liz Wisan plays a busty, bunned Sherlock Holmes a character who, it seems, is without gender. Holmes is, simply, Holmes.
The story, if somehow this tale has eluded you, is a simple one. A curse on the Baskerville family dooms the inheritor of Baskerville Hall to be hunted down on the moor by a giant, evil dog. Lord Charles has just bitten the dust when the play begins and an American cousin, Henry Baskerville, has just been brought to England to assume the property and the title. Holmes is hired to protect the young man. He does the best he can do. The End.
How is that enough to fill a two hour play? Well, there are lots of details I didn't mention. And how is this all funny? You have to see it to understand that. Three actors play the array of characters that set this story in motion. The trio at the Dorset Theatre Festival are gifted with skills that allow them to exit as one completely identifiable character and re-enter in different costume, different wig as a totally different character with a different accent, different voice, different posture and attitude, different manner of movement. They are so good at this that they occasionally crack one another up with their switches.
Dave Quay, Liz Wisan, Brian Owen; photo: provided
Brian Owen as Actor 1 plays more funny roles than anyone. Some are in the hero class and others are among the more villainous. A few are just simply weird men including the hilarious Stapleton whose butterfly-catching act is guaranteed to have you hysterical. His Barrymore is an "Igor" in the making. I could watch him all night and never tire of his wonderful and varied characterizations.
Raji Ahsan is a heavenly hero, particularly when his Lord Henry Baskerville falls in love with the neighbor lady. He also delivers a downright hoot of a Detective Lestrade. He moves between Texas accent and lower class British with ease and in one sequence plays both men at the same time without missing a beat or a hat-change.
Even so, the funniest of the trio, as Actress 1, is Caitlin Clouthier. Mrs. Barrymore in her hands, body and voice is a truly outrageous character whose every reappearance creates gales of laughter. Her romantic Beryl Stapleton is a woman who speaks syllables rather than words and often interjects enough additional ones to almost be creating her own, though still identifiable, language. She plays vamps, nurses, one of the Baker Street Irregular boys who cracks up every time he hears the word "bosom." Clouthier is one of the brightest comic lights on our regional stages this season.
Dave Quay is handsome, charming and vocally rich as Dr. Watson. With some of the archest lines to speak, he presents a good human being, natural as can be, unprepossessing and attractive. When he is hurt we feel his pain. When he is triumphant we feel his insecurity. It's a lovely performance.
As his friend, mentor and tormentor, Sherlock Holmes, we have Liz Wison who proves adeptly that there is no gender to this person. Wisan plays the manliness of the character but we never lose sight of her feminine side. She is completely believable which is a surprise and a delight. This is a casting coup and succeeds in part, I am sure, due to the vision and talent of the show's director, Jen Wineman.
On a unit set that works so very well, Wineman manipulates her fine cast in this farcical edition of the classic Conan Doyle tale. She gives Owen his comic head, allowing him long and silly death scenes, and scenes of ponderous reaction that are so funny you wish they'd end while you hope they won't. She makes the romantic moments tender yet gently humorous. With her lighting and sound designers (Michael Giannitti and Jane Shaw, respectively) she builds the suspense about the infamous Hound.
The special and spectacular costumes designed by AaronP. Mastin play an important role in the success of this play and they deserve their very own liine of appreciation.
This is a classic piece, as I've said, made into a classic of a different stripe. It is one of the best comedies available thanks to a very talented bunch of people. Don't miss it if you can get a ticket. I saw a Wednesday night performance and it was just about sold out.
Baskerville plays at the Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Road, Dorset, Vermont, through July 29. For informatio and tickets call the box office at 802-867-2223 or go on line at dorsettheatrefestival.org.