Mysteries have been taking a beating since the London success of Maria Aitken’s production of “39 Steps.” Instead of suspense, directors mire Arthur Conan Doyle in comedy, some of which works, some of which doesn’t know when to stop with the laughs and resume with what made the piece worth doing in the first place, a story that’s a thriller. Thank goodness for Brock D. Vickers. In adapting one of Conan Doyle’s most popular Sherlock Holmes mysteries, he kept the intense tone of the original.
Director Jared Reed was astute to play Vickers’s script straight, and the result was another success for the Storyboard series Reed initiated earlier this year with The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Universe, a second installment of which, written originally for radio in the U.K., will come to the Hedgerow stage in January.
Rather than make fun of Holmes, his characteristic methods and accouterments, or Watson, Barrymore, Stapleton, or any other character in HOUND, Vickers aimed for a pure and articulate telling of the story. As readers playing various characters present Conan Doyle’s tome about a larger than average dog with fiery red eyes that has a particular taste for killing the titled heads of the Baskerville family, cartoonlike illustrations of those characters, drawn by Hugo Delao are projected behind the actors. This makes it clear which character is speaking as the actors double, triple, and multiply further in putting together their drama.
Though the Storyboard program calls for mainly reader’s theater, the Hedgerow crew did some admirable acting. Mark Swift has been notable in several parts for Hedgerow this year, most lately and famously as the randy visitor in Marc Camoletti’s “Boeing Boeing,” and he was dapper as Sherlock Holmes while being flinty and terse as the naturalist Stapleton, usually played for laughs in recent “Baskervilles,” and shaded as the Baskerville butler, Barrymore. Josh Portera resisted being silly as Watson and played the part, wisely, as someone who knows how detective work is done and could be in control.
Allison Bloechl was fine in the women’s roles while also doing well as the country doctor that enlists Holmes to advise in the Baskerville case, and Robert Gene Pellecchio played a Baskerville that acted bravely while very naturally fearing for his life. All in all, this HOUND was a good solid production that did credit to Mr. Conan Doyle — thanks again, Brock — and proved, as if it needed proving, that Victorian mystery, though it has traits that could lead to lampooning, can do its dramatic job being played for keeps in the style and tone intended. Read more on Neals Paper >>>
[Hedgerow Theatre, 64 Rose Valley Road, Rose Valley, PA] September 9-18, 2016; hedgerowtheatre.org.