Take five actors, with some nearly three dozen characters, plus a mystery that's playing as melodrama while also playing as a farce, and turn it into a hit show.

No sweat, Sherlock.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle meets madcap hilarity in Ken Ludwig's BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY, now running at Theatre Baton Rouge through February 4.

Directed by Jenny Ballard-Mayfield, TBR's production is a fresh take on a classic story that will leave you in stitches. The character of Sherlock Holmes has been a subject of parody for years, but in Ludwig's work the joy comes not from solving the mystery, but in the multitude of imaginative characters you will come across - though there are only five actors. It's no mystery that this production owes great thanks to the theatrical stylings of works such as Alfred Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps," and Agatha Christie's "Murder on the Nile," where classic mystery stories are played down for laughs while also testing the limits of an actor's range by casting them in several different parts.

And it is with great thanks to the ensemble casting that BASKERVILLE is a definite crowd pleaser. Starring Tyler Grezaffi and Ronald Coats as Holmes and Watson, we bear witness to one of the most popular detective stories from the Holmes canon, "The Hound of Baskervilles," that centers on a mysterious murder on the moors outside of London. Don't go in expecting thrilling suspense, however, because it is in short supply. Ludwig's script, while very faithful to the original story, takes the comedic route and is filled with witty quips and one-liners.

A true testament to the quality of the show is the layers of comedy found in the production with the comedic writing, zany characters, and prop gags. There is a moment with a baby carriage that had this critic cackle - apologies to those sitting beside her. Even the production team gets in on the fun and creates a few laughs with the use of lights and sound.

Grezaffi as Holmes is a refreshing change. Rather than playing as a stuffy know-it-all, or emotionless robot, Grezaffi shows a kind of eagerness as Holmes, ready to put his mental prowess to the test. While the physical humor seems out of place for such a prolific character, it humanizes Holmes as it humors. Coats is a proper, grounded Watson, narrating the story to the audience while bringing his recollections to life.

Most comedic interpretations of Holmes and Watson seem to be larger than life, or a little bit over the top. Not so with Grezaffi and Coats who serve as the straight-men roles for the three who portray everyone else, Kenneth Mayfield, Zac Thriffiley and Kacie Barnes. I recommend BASKERVILLE for anyone who appreciates pure theatricality because you will find it here in spades. While some accents are more effective than others, the three are hugely funny in their array of characterizations that you wouldn't realize it is the same three people playing different characters.

A near-impossible number of costume changes make it possible for Ballard's delightfully witty production to zip along while also taking advantage of the humor by breaking the fourth wall. When an annoyed Holmes asks a young lad (played by Barnes), who has just burst onstage, "What took you so long?" the panting actor (who moments before had been a costumed middle-aged lady) replies deadpan: "You have no idea."

And some changes happen in the blink of an eye as Mayfield plays a scene between a Baskerville heir and Inspector Lestrade by merely switching hats. Special shout out to the dressers back stage.

Adding to the theatricality of the show is the set design. Simple in design, we have a mostly empty stage that serves as a prime playground for the actors' physical comedy. Doubling as actor and scenic designer, Kenneth Mayfield manages to pull together settings from only a few set pieces, allowing the audience's imagination to come into play. One moment, we're in a fog-bound moor; the next, in Holmes' study. Donald Moore's amusing sound design adds to the melodramatic atmosphere, as does Kathryn Steele's lighting. Carriages and animals come at us in an instant. Some effects are achieved through simple means using cute tricks that audiences of 19th-century melodrama would enjoy. Add all that together and you have a comedic hit.

To miss BASKERVILLE would be a crime.

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From This Author Tara Bennett

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