Pat Launer, Center Stage on KSDS JAZZ88
August 7, 2015
Who let the dogs out? That monstrous, murderous hound is back, in “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” at The Old Globe.
This West coast premiere is the brainchild of Ken Ludwig, the award-winning comic playwright best known for “Lend Me a Tenor.”
Here we have a deliciously campy riff on the classic 1902 Arthur Conan Doyle story, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Hewing surprisingly close to the original, Ludwig’s version, which debuted earlier this year, is a complex, multi-layered, multi-character piece performed by five actors playing some 40 wildly disparate roles. We’ve seen this sort of thing before, in “The 39 Steps” and “The Mystery of Irma Vep.” Why are these wacky shenanigans always set in gloomy England?
The arena stage in the White Theatre is ringed by miniature versions of Victorian houses, whose roofs ingeniously flip open to create a tea tray or a hotel desk. Top hats fall from above and umbrellas spring up from the floor. Theater magic abounds. The endlessly imaginative design elements feature ominous lighting and sound, and phenomenal costumes, which require incredibly quick, gender-bending changes, sometimes right before our eyes.
Sherlock Holmes devotees may find their idol sullied by the silliness, but there’s platy of suspense, too, and chasing and racing around, often in, on and through the audience.
Of course it’s ridiculous at times, but it remains an intricate mystery, filled with murder and mayhem, secrets, lies and unlikely love.
It makes sense to have a Broadway choreographer direct, and Josh Rhodes marshals an incomparable ensemble. Euan Morton is a solid Holmes, though he’s not really the main character. Usman Ally is a delightful Dr. Watson, our sometime narrator. But it’s the myriad costumes, accents, characters and antics of Liz Wisan, Andrew Kober and especially Blake Segal that keep us riveted and amazed.
Sherlock Holmes never seems to go out of style. There’s barely an entertainment genre that hasn’t tapped into his appeal. “Baskerville” is another winning contender. For Watson and the rest of us, there’s nothing “elementary” about it.
“Baskerville ,” staged in The Old Globe’s White Theatre, has been extended through September 6.
©2015 PAT LAUNER