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Falcon’s “Baskerville” Mixes Comedy and Mystery

Review by Doug Iden of “Baskerville”: Falcon Theatre

The game is afoot once more as Sherlock Holmes battles the hound on the deadly moors in “Baskerville,” opening at the Falcon Theater.   Five actors playing multiple characters cavort in Ken Ludwig’s homage/spoof of the Arthur Conan Doyle masterpiece “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.

The overall tone of the show is gentle whimsy while maintaining the themes and adhering to the original plot of the book.  James Mortimer (played by Dan Robertson among many other parts) engages Holmes (veteran Matt Dentino) to investigate the recent death of Sir Charles Baskerville and pursue the legend of the infamous Hound of the Baskervilles which has allegedly dogged the family for several centuries.  An American relative (Sir Henry Baskerville played by Nick DiNuzio among may other roles) will inherit the estate and may need protection.  Holmes accepts the challenge and dispatches Doctor Watson (Alan Kootscher) to oversee the safety of the Baskerville heir with the proviso to stay off the gloomy and dangerous moors which surround the estate.  They are hounded by the curse.

Dentino and Kootscher only play Holmes and Watson respectively while three other actors play all of the other roles. Robertson plays Mortimer, Barrymore (servant at Baskerville), Stapleton (a resident of the moor), a Baker Street Irregular who helps Holmes, and several other minor characters.  DiNuzio plays Sir Henry Baskerville, Inspector Lestrade and numerous others.  Actress 1 (Jordon Trovillion) is busy playing Beryl Stapleton, Mrs. Barrymore, Mrs. Hudson, another Baker Street Irregular and others.  The actors seamlessly meld from character to character and costume to costume.  The costume changes are amazing.  (Trovillion even jokes about it while changing from a dress to a male costume as an Irregular within a few seconds).  The best change though, and one of the many chuckle moments, comes late in the show when Henry Baskerville and Lestrade (both played by DiNuzio) simultaneously stare over the right and then left shoulder of Trovillion by using the costume of Lestrade and only the ubiquitous hat of Baskerville.  Ironically, the least interesting character is Holmes himself. This is not a criticism of Dentino who plays Holmes (correctly) as distant, cerebral and somewhat disdainful of the Hound myth but rather the way the character is portrayed in the book in which he only appears at the start and the end.  The story is really about Watson who is portrayed only slightly more seriously than Nigel Bruce played him in the Basil Rathbone movies. Kootscher plays the foil and reacts beautifully (and comically) to the insanity surrounding him.  It’s a credit to the actors that they don’t all crack up during the performance.

The comedy springs from the use of absurd props, sight gags and outlandish overacting by the principals.  Some of the more intriguing props (designed by director Derek Snow and artistic director Ted Weil) are a series of blank picture frames which surround the actors.  (Holmes gets a major clue from a series of portraits of past Baskervilles.)  A wooden door with a window substitutes as a “carriage” on one side and a “train” when the prop is reversed.  Stapleton is a butterfly collector and continually tries to net a puppet butterfly.  The Hound is shown as a shadow puppet.  One way to keep the characters straight is through costuming by Tara Williams. Holmes has his traditional suit and deerstalker hat, Watson dresses like a professional man but the other characters have a variety of costumes including an outlandish Texas garb (complete with pistol and holster), a flowery dress for Beryl Stapleton, servants’ uniforms for the Barrymores etc.  Another method is through dialects.  Too often dialects lead to cringeworthy moments but I was impressed by the quality and variety of accents (a combination of the actors ability and dialect coach Kate Glasheen) including High and Middle English, Cockney. Irish, Scottish, central European, American (Texas) and Italian.  Frequently, the actors switch accents within seconds.

This is a thoroughly enjoyable and entertaining play acted marvelously by everyone.  With all of the moving parts, costume switches, dialects, multiple characters, and props, this is an exceedingly difficult effort but the cast succeeds admirably.  It’s also very funny while portraying a classic and landmark murder mystery.

Grab your deerstalker, your pet cane and brave the heathen cries of the monster mastiff at the Falcon Theater playing through May 18.