Review: Baskerville at Arena Stage is a delightful riot for Holmes fans
I wasn’t sure what to expect going to see Baskerville on its opening night at Arena Stage in Washington DC. A comedic version of Hound of the Baskervilles? The most adapted of all the Sherlock Holmes stories, Hound has been a staple of gothic horror and suspense. It’s meant to be dark and morose like the moors themselves, not farcical! And yet, when you really think about it, the idea is a bit… odd, if not hilarious. A phosphorous painted dog? Hidden identities? Butterflies?! Maybe it was rather comedic after all…
The official synopsis for Baskerville
Get your deerstalker cap on—the play’s afoot! From the award-winning mastermind of mayhem, Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor), comes a fast-paced comedy about everyone’s favorite detective solving his most notorious case. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson must crack the mystery of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” before a family curse dooms its newest heir. Watch as our intrepid investigators try to escape a dizzying web of clues, silly accents, disguises and deceit as five actors deftly portray more than 40 characters. Does a wild hellhound prowl the moors of Devonshire? Can our heroes discover the truth in time? Join the fun and see how far from elementary the truth can be.
And so I went in to Baskerville idly wondering how they were going to adapt Hound into something hilarious. Learning that three actors would be playing all the parts aside from Holmes and Watson was definitely the first indicator that Baskerville was going to be a riot, and how very right that notion was.
Baskerville is a joy. It’s hilarious and ridiculous and incredibly well done. It’s completely faithful to the original story and doesn’t shy away from having fun with the source material. Lucas Hall’s rather adorable John Watson narrates the entire show in spurts, guiding us through the story in an affable manner. While I prefer my Watsons to be a bit more lady killer (though he does get some smoldering on) and sure of themselves, Hall’s Watson is utterly devoted to his Holmes and aims to please and is also the butt of nearly every meta joke as he wonders why daisies are falling from the sky or sudden holes and trap doors are appearing on the ground. I just wished he had a mustache as he tends to look like a Newsie without it with his bowtie and flat cap. Don’t deny John Watson a bow tie.
You must forgive me a moment while I coo about Gregory Wooddell’s absolutely magnificent Sherlock Holmes. He’s manic and excitable and an absolute joy to watch. He really grabs on to the notion that Sherlock Holmes did love to laugh and was genuinely enthralled with cases and solving mysteries. He has the theatricality of Jeremy Brett and the earnest concentration of Benedict Cumberbatch. But moreover, he makes Holmes completely his own. He jumps around and poses and yells at himself when he misses something. He’s a bit in love with his life. Now all this doesn’t mean he doesn’t have moments of quiet concentration, there’s even a moment when he refuses to acknowledge anyone’s presence because he’s just thinking too hard and snaps at Sir Henry to leave. He uses all the traits of Holmes from the books, fleshing them out in a fun way that really fits with the rest of the play, but also doesn’t stray a ridiculous amount from the original stories.
He also has REALLY great hair. Like, fantastic hair.
The rest of the 40 parts are played by three actors. Quick changes, staging tricks, and more energy than I can imagine, these three really make Baskerville something special. Also the range of accents and physical acting is just something to behold. And laugh very hard at.
One of the best characterizations (of which there are many in Baskerville) is that the Barrymores have been turned into a macabre Russian couple a la Young Frankenstein with Bahorek’s Barrymore with an Igor-like hump and limp and his wife, played by Jane Pfitsch (who played EVERY lady in Baskerville plus Cartwright) nothing short of a perfectly deadpan Frau Blucher. All with ridiculous Russian accents. There was even a Sarah Palin joke as Barrymore was caught with the candle in the window. Blessed be Washington DC.
Sir Henry has been turned into a Texan cowboy and is played with aplomb by Michael Glenn, who also has a turn as a rather raunchy Lestrade. There was a healthy helping of Texas jokes, and while much fun was poked at, his Henry also had that old Southern charm that made his interactions with Pfitsch’s Beryl Stapleton quite cute and charming.
Stanley Bahorek is particularly memorable as the campy and nervous Stapleton who breaks out into an operatic sting every time ‘The Grimpen Mire” is said, as well as chasing butterflies throughout the entire production. It’s also a credit to his acting chops that towards the end, his manner as Stapleton changes to something much more chilling and calculated. I think I actually lost track of how many characters Bahorek played.
Because of the nature of having so few actors play so many parts, there were plenty of meta jokes and actors rushing off stage as their other characters were int he next scene. It was done with full knowledge and as an in-joke with the audience. It never felt trite or contrived, just enjoyable. The audience laughed uproariously every time.
The staging of Baskerville is clever, meta, and fun. More than once the audience applauded so hard that the actors had to pause because of a scene or quick change. It’s a tight knit production that has fun and even if something goes a little wrong, the actors improv and it seems just so right.
Once the story was over and we’d finally stopped laughing, my theater partner Catherine (who does the hilarious Sherlock parody Sherly) simply said “delightful.” And that it is.
Baskerville runs at Arena Stage in Washington D.C. until February 22nd. You can get tickets HERE. You can watch a cute teaser of Baskerville below. Our friends at I Hear of Sherlock have an interview with the playwright, Ken Ludwig, that you should definintely listen to HERE.
Kristina Manente is the founder of The Baker Street Babes, as well as a podcaster, reporter, event coordinator, and PR guru for the Babes. Beyond Holmes, she’s a gamer, a traveler, a writer, a radio host, and a Van Winkle style napper.
You can listen to her radio work at kristinamanente.com, follow her travels at The Nerdventurists, and read her nerdy culture blog at verynerdycurly.com. Feel free to stalk her on twitter at @CurlyFourEyes.