The Hound of the Baskervilles (revisited) by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. Directed by Tony Simotes.
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
"...in Europe." "In your opinion." "No, in Eur-ope."
Who says ‘you can’t go there again?’ At Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, Massachusetts three funny actors are not only repeating a season’s past roles, they are doing it in a new way in a larger setting and making their mark into a potential annual event. Nineteenth and early twentieth century actors returned to favorite roles often and toured them to the same towns where the same audiences dutifully and delightedly came out in droves to see again what had pleased them before. Why shouldn’t that sort of magic be renewed by a resident company here in our midst?
This three-actor "Hound of the Baskervilles" is even funnier this time around than it was in September 2009. Jonathan Croy’s Dr. John Watson is more of a boob this time and he’s twice as funny. John Aaron McCabe’s handsome and virile Sherlock Holmes is more vulnerable today than he was a while back. Ryan Winkles is more adorable in his various cheeky roles than he managed to be in the first edition of the play. The truth of the matter here is that these three actors are thoroughly enjoying themselves in this play and their audience is enjoying their on-stage relationship just as much as they are enjoying the antics and language of the play itself.
This is a feisty little play. It does not staunchly emulate the Conan Doyle story but seems almost too much a stage parody of a John Waters film version. The humor is sometimes slyly gay oriented, hinting at relationships on the back burner that don’t exist in the characters more literary lives. We catch Watson admiring Holmes posterior, for example, in the first scene of the play. The word ‘butt’ is often implied when the word ‘but’ is used. There are visual sexual jokes and spoken ones as well. Occasionally someone talks about, indicates or produces the noise of "horse-farts." Vulgarity is not out of the question, and yet it is of a piece and never really offends.
Winkles plays Sir Henry Baskerville, the last of the Baskerville line and next intended victim of the historic hound. He is sweetly ingenuous in the part. As written he might be considered stupid but as played he is clearly just Canadian. That’s a major step up, but not enough to appease the colonialism of the British. Winkles shines as the Scots meat seller, milking more laughs from us than he can wring milk from his baby cow in a bag.
McCabe is stellar this time around as both Holmes and the charlatan he hopes to catch. He also plays the erotic Brazilian woman who attracts Sir Henry, dancing and flashing her eyes and her two fans. This may be his finest creation so far, and certainly his funniest. As both the servants, husband and wife, he brings to life two quirky characters that honestly keep us laughing at their unreality while seeming to be very real indeed.
Croy is just the perfect Watson. Tall, secure, serious and very right, he handles comic lines with a sincerity that makes them almost too good to arouse laughter. . .but they do so without fail. He also manages physical comedy well beyond expectation at this point in time. When he and Winkles begin to fade in the mire you cannot help but feel sorry for them and yet laugh out loud at their crazy predicament.
On this larger stage, assisted by four costumed stage hands, the show seems to be a bit more prone to lengthy costume changes and stage waits that require some improvisation. Similarly these extended moments seem to inspire some onstage shenanigans with actors losing control now and then, breaking into laughter of their own and having to deal with that problem in front of the audience. Director Tony Simotes has clearly not bothered with such problems realizing as he must that these waits and the fills that each actor is clearly capable of creating are better than any other solution. His own sense of comedy, physical and verbal, shines in the work done on this stage. The way in which all three men handle such silly moments is almost worth the price of admission all by itself.
Guess what - I enjoyed myself immensely. Comedy is rearing its glorious head in the Founders Theatre in Lenox, Massachusetts and it is not to be missed. You’ll fall in love with these three actors in this show. You just can’t help yourself.
Ryan Winkles as Sir Henry Baskerville; photo: Kevin Sprague
McCabe as Cecile; photo: Kevin Sprague
Croy as Watson with McCabe's Holmes; photo: Kevin Sprague
The Hound of the Baskervilles plays in the Founders Theatre in repertory on the Shakespeare and Company campus at 70 Kemble Street in Lenox, Mass through September 4, 2011. For information and tickets call the box office at 413-637-3353.