Sunday, December 15, 2013

Review of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" at Playhouse on Park, West Hartford, CT

Shows with just a few characters playing a variety of roles need to be concerned about timing, pacing, and inventiveness.  The gold standard is the original 1984 production of The Mystery of Irma Vep with creator Charles Ludlam and Everett Quinton.  More recently, there has been the Hitchcock send-up, The 39 Steps, and currently, Off-Broadway, the hilarious, Murder for Two.  Locally, Playhouse on Park has undertaken the three-person retelling of the Sherlock Holmes mystery, The Hounds of the Baskervilles.  While there are some humorous and creative moments the production suffers from a sluggish tempo and slapdash characterizations.

The Arthur Conan Doyle story, one of the best known in the Holmes canon, concerns a spectral hound that has, supposedly, roamed the Scottish moors for generations, targeting the Baskerville clan.  When the last surviving family member, Sir Henry, arrives from Canada to claim his family’s property Holmes and Watson are on the case to protect the new squire and solve the perplexing puzzle.

The three actors in the show are very good in their primary roles.  Rich Hollman is slightly bland, but not as pompous or grating as other portrayers of the world’s greatest detective or, as stated in the show, the second best sleuth.   Sean Harris is more a bumbling, confused Nigel Bruce type in his depiction of Dr. Watson.  Brennan Caldwell has a deft comic touch as Henry Baskerville.  All the actors are game for the physicality called upon for the show.  However, the other characters they inhabit show little imagination.  Witness Jeff Blumenkrantz in Off-Broadway’s Murder for Two who morphs into over a half dozen characters by simply altering his voice or facial expressions.  That sort of dexterity would have been more captivating then throwing scraggly on a black beard or white dress, as done in this production.

Scenes in The Hound of the Baskervilles seemed to languish much too often.  The overall tone needed more of a madcap flavor.  Director Tom Ridgely should have had the actors gone more over-the-top as displayed in the first part of Act II.  The show was not fast-paced enough to keep it from becoming wearisome instead of what could have been an outrageous, off-the-wall affair.

Thought should also have been given to trim the two hour running time (including intermission).  The show would have been more robust and entertaining at a compact 90 minutes of straight lunacy.

The Hound of the Baskervilles, playing through December 22nd.

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