BWW Review: KEN LUDWIG'S BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY at Theatre Harrisburg

BWW Review: KEN LUDWIG'S BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY at Theatre Harrisburg

Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles, Ken Ludwig's 2015 adaptation, Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: a Sherlock Holmes Mystery, follows Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson as they attempt to save Sir Henry Baskerville from a rumored family curse. This is one of the most self-aware shows this writer has seen from Ludwig, and the fast-paced humor-both verbal and physical-makes it intelligent and entertaining.

Ludwig intentionally wrote Baskerville so that it could be successfully staged in a number of different types of venues. In a video at www.kenludwig.com/baskerville/baskerville.php, Ludwig states, "When I wrote it in my mind's eye I had no specific scenic elements in mind, and I did that on purpose. I love that. I like writing plays and saying to the actors, to the designers and to the director, go conceive a way to do this. Do it in a way that surprises me. Do it in a way that's really original and tells the story really honestly. That's the most important thing."

One of the most astonishing aspects of the play, and one that can go either delightfully right or horribly wrong, is that Baskerville requires a special type of agility from the cast, director, and production crew as five actors portray over 40 different characters (rather reminiscent of 39 Steps). In the production of Baskerville at Theatre Harrisburg, the cast and crew, under the direction of Karen Ruch, provide audiences with a brilliantly staged and acted interpretation of Ludwig's play that goes delightfully right.

The Krevsky Production Center is the perfect space for this play, and the set evokes Victorian England without being heavy handed. The use of a scrim and backlighting to show the outline of the city, of Baskerville Hall, as well as other elements of the story (to say much more would take away from the audience's experience of the creative ways in which Theatre Harrisburg staged this production). The set is just enough without being overwhelming, allowing the actors to move seamlessly through doorways into and out of different locations without becoming confusing for the audience. The lighting and sound effects work well together with the set and props to create the perfect blend of mystery, suspense, and humor.

This show only works with a stellar cast, and Theatre Harrisburg's production certainly has that. Sean Adams is a smooth, debonair, confident, witty, and crafty Holmes. He effortlessly commands the stage with a presence that is perfect for the famous Sherlock Holmes. Of particular note is the way in which Holmes and Watson interact with one another. Darren Riddle as Dr. Watson and Adams as Holmes have wonderful chemistry, keeping the story moving forward and handling quick dialogue in a natural way to evoke the camaraderie that exists between these investigative partners. There is also a playfulness between the two that lends to the comedy of the play. Riddle is a fantastic narrator and does a great job of moving between Watson as the narrator and Watson as a part of the action as the play progresses. Both actors use their facial expressions, posture, and gestures to create distinct characters that are consistent throughout the play.

Garrett Knisley, Stephanie Trdenic, and David Richwine never get a moment's rest throughout the show, as each actor portrays a variety of characters. These three actors move in and out of accents, costumes, postures, personalities, and speech patterns so smoothly that it is easy to forget that the same actors were playing all of those parts. It's difficult enough to hold one accent consistent throughout a show-it's even harder to move back and forth between distinct accents without accidentally slipping into one of the others, and there were no slips. Every single character portrayed by these actors had a distinct personality and way of interacting with the other characters. Knisley, Trdenic, and Richwine demonstrated amazing versatility and stamina in this production.

There isn't enough room here to mention all of the characters that these actors manage to bring to life, so I'll just highlight a few of my favorites. Knisley's Sir Henry Baskerville struts around the stage with an easy-going confidence and laissez faire attitude. He is a man of action with a smooth Texan accent. Knisley performs this character in a way that endears him to the audience, ensuring that we all hope he will not be the next victim of the hound. Trdenic and Richwine have an astounding number of characters to play, and they do so with alacrity and humor.

My favorite characters for Trdenic are Cartwright, Miss Stapleton, and Mrs. Barrymore. Cartwright, a young man always willing to take on odd jobs to make some cash. Trdenic brings a youthful, eager to please demeanor to the character, introducing the audience to someone who doesn't take life too seriously but wants to do a good job in his work, especially for Mr. Holmes. Miss Stapleton is part of the key to the mystery surrounding the hound of Baskerville. In Trdenic's capable hands the audience senses Miss Stapleton's unease around Richwine's Stapleton and the hope she feels when she connects with Sir Henry. Mrs. Barrymore is easily my favorite character for Trdenic. Modeled after Mel Brooks's Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein, Trdenic's Mrs. Barrymore is wonderfully creepy and off-kilter, and she plays off of Richwine's Mr. Barrymore (reminiscent of Igor from Young Frankenstein) perfectly.

Richwine's ability to enter the stage as a completely new person and to maintain that character through his exit is incredible. While all of his characters are delightful in their own way, my favorites were Lucy, the Castilian Desk Clerk, Mr. Barrymore, and Stapleton. As the hard of hearing Lucy, Richwine is just the right level of over the top as she flirts with Holmes and mishears just about every line. The scene with Lucy may be one of the funniest in the first act, though it is rivaled by the scene where Richwine plays the Castilian Desk Clerk. His Desk Clerk is fastidious, concerned about the reputation of his hotel, and stressed out by the posturing between Holmes and Inspector Lestrade and Lestrade's less than couth language and volume. Mr. Barrymore as portrayed by Richwine is the perfect match for Trdenic's Mrs. Barrymore, and their comedic bits together were some of my favorite parts of the show. Finally, as Stapleton, he swings back and forth between affable, slightly dotty butterfly catcher and overprotective, scheming, nervous neighbor. When the twist in the plotline comes to life, the audience comes to understand the nuances in this character.

Richwine and Trdenic's comedic timing is spot-on, and their quick changes and chameleon-like shifts from character to character keep the audience on their toes. The costumes were perfect for each character, and the costume design team and dressers deserve a round of applause for creating costumes that were unique but easy for quick changes and for facilitating those quick changes behind the scenes.

If you are looking for a fun evening with lots of laughs, some plot twists, and sparkling creativity, get your tickets for Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: a Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Theatre Harrisburg. The show runs through September 16th. Visit www.theatreharrisburg.com to get your tickets before it's too late.

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From This Author Andrea Stephenson

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