Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Review of "Baskerville - A Sherlock Holmes Mystery"

The playwright Ken Ludwig is having a banner year for productions of his works in Connecticut, with decidedly mixed results.  Last November The Game’s Foot had an underwhelming presentation at the Ivoryton Playhouse.  The adaptation of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express is currently receiving a sleek and stylish production at Hartford Stage (through March 25th).  That brings us to Baskerville – a Sherlock Holmes Mystery playing until March 25th at Long Wharf Theatre.  The show, a dramatization of the Arthur Conan Doyle mystery, “The Hounds of the Baskervilles,” is a straightforward and sometimes amusing telling of the classic tale.  The play is staged with only five actors.  Think of The 39 Steps (playing at Music Theatre of Connecticut through March 18th), but with less inventiveness and adrenaline.

Brian Owen, Daniel Pearce, Alex Moggridge and Christopher Livingston in "Baskerville."

The plot of the show is simple enough.  Sherlock Holmes and his faithful companion Dr. Watson are asked to investigate the menacing, maybe otherworldly, events on the English Moors by Baskerville estate.  The previous occupant has been suspiciously and horribly murdered by, what seems, a ferocious beast.  The duo race up to investigate as well as protect the new Lord of the manor, a wide-eyed Texan, who might be the latest victim of a supposed family curse.  There are disguises, red-herrings, clues to be deciphered, deceit and a love story thrown in for good measure.
Daniel Pearce, Brian Owen, and Christopher Livingston in "Baskerville."
The playwright has been quite faithful to the original story so audience members, not familiar with the mystery, will not be lost.  Ludwig has embellished the tale with humorous trimmings and a frantic sensibility.  Still, while the overall production is entertaining, there is too little of a comic temperament.  I smiled more then I laughed.

The five actors play 40 different, sometimes eccentric, characters.  The acting team is led by Alex Moggridge as the intrepid detective Sherlock Holmes.  He is suitably erudite, aloof, and without peer.  His portrayal is assured and less comical then the other performers, which helps anchor the show.  Daniel Pearce, as Dr. Watson, is less the inept sidekick so famously portrayed by Nigel Bruce in the Basil Rathbone Sherlock Holmes movies from the 1940’s.  Here, the actor is less a bungler and more Holmes’ partner-in-crime.  The actor has bounding enthusiasm for the role that helps propel his scenes forward.  The three other performers—Kelly Hutchinson, Christopher Livingston, and Brian Owen—seem to be having the most fun as they flit in and out of dozens of quirky, idiosyncratic characters.  While all fine actors, Brian Owen needs to be singled out for his more daft, off-the-wall portrayals.
Daniel Pearce, Kelly Hutchinson, Brian Owen and Christopher Livingston in "Baskerville."
Director Brendan Fox keeps the game afoot with quick costume and set changes synchronized at a dazzling pace.  His work with Lighting Designer Robert Wierzel helps push forward scene changes with modest, yet effective lighting techniques.  The director is at his best, as is the play itself, when the action and hijinks are ratcheted up a notch or two. 

Tim Mackabee’s minimal scenic design gives just enough visual cues to
define set locales.  Victoria Deiorio’s Sound Design and original music add a sinister and melodramatic underpinning to the production.  Lex Liang’s Costume Designs deserve special notice for their spot-on Victorian accoutrements as well as permitting lightning quick costume changes, a must for this type of show.
Alex Moggridge as Sherlock Holmes in "Baskerville."
Baskerville – a Sherlock Holmes Mystery, a droll and diverting piece of entertainment, playing at Long Wharf Theatre through March 25th.

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