Baskerville: A Zany Journey to Solve Mystery on The Moors
Intrigue, otherworldly spirits, crazy and colorful personalities, mistaken identities, and much merriment are all rolled into a well-constructed and executed package in Long Wharf’s current production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.
Written in 2015 by the very funny Ken Ludwig (author of Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo), the play is an adaptation of the third in the series of crime novels written at the turn-of-the-century by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, featuring detective Sherlock Holmes.
Smartly directed by Brendon Fox, the high-energy Victorian melodrama/comedy is performed by a superb ensemble cast of five, playing more than 40 roles, reminiscent of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps and Charles Ludlam’s The Mystery of Irma Vep.
The basic plot stays true to the original storyline: Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson have been asked by Dr. James Mortimer to investigate the sudden death of his friend, Sir Charles Baskerville, in the desolate moors of Devonshire. Although the death has been attributed to a heart attack, suspicions arise due to the horrified look on Sir Charles’s face when he died and nearby footprints that coincide with the Moorish legend of a diabolical hound with supernatural powers.
From there it’s all a tightly woven free-for-all with one lightening fast vignette following another over the two-hour (including one intermission) production, all comically attempting to solve the mystery with many digressions along the way.
To keep the storyline from devolving into utter chaos, we can rely on Alex Moggridge and Daniel Pearce to mostly stay in their roles of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson, master detectives, which they perform with appropriate dry humor and quirkiness.
Brian Owen as Actor 1, Christopher Livingston as Actor 2, and Kelly Hutchinson as Actress 3, brilliantly bring to life dozens of other characters—human and otherwise—in a vast array of indoor and outdoor locations from London to The Moors.
Owen is a hoot in dramatically over-the-top personalities and dialects ranging from a Castilian desk clerk to an eccentric butterfly catcher; Livingston alternating from a regal Lord of the English Manor to an African American cowboy; and Hutchinson seamlessly switching from an Igor-like inn keeper to a Red Cross nurse, and on and on.
But extremely critical, creating much more than an illusion of the multitude of characters, is the elaborate and highly inventive costumes by Lex Liang and hairstyle and wig changes, by Jason Hayes, which couldn’t happen without the quick change artists behind the scenes making it happen, who came out for a well-deserved bow at the end of the performance we attended.
Fully adding to all the senses is Victoria Deiorio’s sound design and original music—from a phone ringing to applause in the opera hall to rain and thunder and foreboding music foreshadowing evil acts.
Sets by Tim Mackabee are intentionally simple as there are enough distractions with so many scenes and characters, but do the job: freestanding doors, sparse furniture and accessories to indicate inside. Moving rocks, a projection of an enormous tree and dramatic sky to indicate outside. All enhanced by Robert Wierzel’s shadowy lighting and such special effects as fog rolling in on the moors.
It’s not easy to follow the rather convoluted, detail-laden plotline, particularly in the second act. And the play’s deeper layers of meaning about honesty and vulnerability, truth and deception, described by Brendon Fox in the program drama notes, were overwhelmed by all the non-stop antics and parodies.
Yet that somehow doesn’t matter as the audience gets caught up in this delightful world of imagination, suspense, and great fun—a welcome respite from the unreal reality we’re constantly barraged with on our various screens these days.
Performances of Baskerville continue through Sunday, March 25 at Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven. Tickets available by calling the box office at 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org
Amy J. Barry has been writing about Connecticut professional theater for more than 25 years. She is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle. (ctcritics.org).