Spine-tingling howls, unexpected trap doors, lightning-quick costume changes, and patches of fog in the darkness set the mood for Ken Ludwig’s BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY—a farcical stage adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s beloved Victorian whodunit, The Hound of the Baskervilles (1901). The Philadelphia Theatre Company’s presentation of Arena Stage and McCarter Theatre’s original co-production, directed with gusto by Amanda Dehnert, fully embraces the mock eeriness and real wackiness of Ludwig’s silly spoof of the classic novel. It’s a rapid-fire two hours of thrills, chills, and hilarity, so don’t look for a momentous message here, just pure fun-filled entertainment for the holiday season!
Ludwig’s script adheres closely to Conan Doyle’s familiar narrative, as iconic crime-solvers Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson travel from London to the atmospheric moors of Devonshire to investigate the murder of Sir Charles Baskerville, the legend of an old family curse, and the myth of a bloodthirsty hellhound purportedly decimating the male members of the eponymous family. But the show’s parodic wit and inflated melodrama deliver laughs along with the mystery. Creepy music and hair-raising sound effects (Joshua Horvath), period costumes (Jess Goldstein) and wigs (Leah J. Loukas), and sinister lighting (Philip S. Rosenberg and Joel Shier)—with startling flashes of lightning, looming shadows, focused spotlights, and Victorian-style footlights—all serve to evoke the spirit and times of the novel, while a variety of exaggerated accents (spot-on comedic dialect coaching by Melanie Julian) and brilliantly inventive staging (set design by Daniel Ostling) serve up non-stop frights and side-splitting delights.
PTC’s ensemble of five top-notch actors is impeccable in its timing and delivery. Ron Menzel turns in a stellar performance as Holmes, unerringly capturing just the right look, speech, mannerisms, and pensiveness of the detective as you’ve always imagined him–smart, refined, insightful, and quietly commanding. Henry Clarke is also excellent as Watson, the assistant striving to develop his mentor’s skills of deduction. Along with the two leads, three hard-working supporting actors (Adam Green, Matt Zambrano, and Crystal Finn), together portraying dozens of different figures and suspects of all ages and genders, excel at switching costumes and roles with seeming effortlessness, distinctive characterizations, perfect pacing, comedic flair, and flawless interactions (both with each other and with the ingenious set, costumes, and props).
Any further discussion of the show’s clever details would spoil the surprises, so suffice it to say that this is a thoroughly enjoyable production that should be seen and experienced.
[Suzanne Roberts Theatre, 480 S. Broad Street] November 27-December 27, 2015; philadelphiatheatrecompany.org.