BWW Reviews: HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES Dogs Other Spoofs of Classics, but Loses the Trail
Rich Hollman, Brennan Caldwell and Sean Harris. Photo: Rich Wagner
By Lauren Yarger
With the success of THE 39 STEPS, a spoof of the Alfred Hitchcock film, it is no surprise that other similar shows would find their way onto the stage. Playhouse on the Park in west Hartford is hosting a run of one wannabe, THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES.
This comedic take on the Sherlock Holmes classic was adapted by adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson for Peepolykus (pronounced people like us), a touring theater group based in London. Three men play all the roles of Sherlock Holmes (Equity actor Rich Hollman), Dr. Watson (Playhouse on the Park Co-Artistic Director Sean Harris) and Sir Henry Baskerville (Brennan Caldwell, a recent graduate of Yale) among many others.
The Baskervilles have been biting the dust, it seems, and the latest, Sir Charles, has been found dead, killed, presumably, by a giant black hound that is a legend on the moors near the family's Dartmoor ancestral home. Jason Simms designs a set backdrop of paneled-drawing-room ambiance and scenes in Holmes' flat at 221B Baker Street, the quicksand-like moors, a sauna and the family mansion take place in front of it with a few props (think a picture frame held in front of an actor ....) and costume changes (designed by Erin Kacmarcik) to suggest changes of location or character in the year 1899.
When Sir Henry receives a threatening note warning him to stay away from the moor, Holmes and Watson arrive on the scene to protect the newest heir and to get to the bottom of the murders that have plagued the Baskervilles ever since an ancestor abducted a beautiful young woman and kept her captive at the family manse. Things get complicated when an inmate escapes from the nearby asylum, Henry succumbs to the charms of mysterious woman living with her butterfly catching brother and everyone is spooked at night by creepy noises and the sounds of a woman sobbing (Ryan Kelly designs the very nifty sound effects).
There are some funny bits. I particularly liked Tom Ridgely's direction to create the effect of the men sinking into the quicksand-like moor, but just when the humor of the piece is starting to get old, it is interrupted by intermission (these types of presentations almost always work best at 90 minutes or less with no intermission). Then in the second act, an added plot about the actors and a bit that repeats the action from the first act are extended way too long.
The pace overall is slower than is needed for this type of farce and the decidedly British humor sometimes is lost in translation. A number of jokes drew no laughs. Two audience members (perhaps family members?) laughed heartily at everything regardless of whether or not there was a joke involved. The whole audience seemed to enjoy a bit where Watson shoots at the voice of Sarah Palin saying she can see Russia from her house (wonder if these same people were the ones who were outraged that Palin used a violent reference when suggesting Democrats were in shooting sites during the election. Funny how violence can be funny depending on your political leanings.....) At any rate, the whole comedic flow the evening I attended never quite jelled, though others attending other nights reported rolling in the aisles.
The energetic actors do have some moments. They have a nice rapport and Caldwell, in particular, has a gift for improv.
The play provides some laughs, but falls short of being a riotous romp on the moors (and it's no 39 STEPS). It did, however, make me want to watch the 1939 film version of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" starring Basil Rathbone and Nigel Bruce again, so its effect is positive.
The show runs through Dec. 22 at Playhouse on the Park, 244 Park Road, West Hartford. Tickets $20-$32.50 (860) 523-5900 x10; www.playhouseonpark.org.