BWW Reviews: Arena Stage's Witty BASKERVILLE is a Thoroughly Enjoyable Whodunit

BWW Reviews: Arena Stage's Witty BASKERVILLE is a Thoroughly Enjoyable Whodunit

The joy in watching Arena Stage's witty new play Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is not in solving the crime but in the plethora of wildly imaginative characters you meet along the way. By dispensing with British formality, Ken Ludwig has given us a play that is ingeniously funny and will keep you guessing until the curtain call.

Those arriving at Arena Stage expecting to find the stereotypical dark and stormy night murder, followed by the heart pounding search for a killer will be severely disappointed. Adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's 1902 novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, Ludwig has done something unexpected with the play and that is to find the humor in the story.

Who would ever think of turning to Sherlock Holmes for laughs?

The play begins with the murder of Sir Charles Baskerville. Hoping to solve the crime, Baskerville's personal physician, James Mortimer (Stanley Bahorek), travels to London seeking Sherlock Holmes' (Gregory Wooddell) help. Assisted by his faithful companion Doctor Watson (Lucas Hall), they crisscross London and Baskerville Hall to find who or what killed Sir Baskerville.

Like a good mystery, Ludwig's script requires the audience to take a certain leap of faith. Not every incident will make sense at first, and the play will require you to place your trust in the heroes. By the end you realize that Ludwig had done a remarkable job adapting Doyle's story to the stage while putting his own twist on a classic.

He does this by finding the humor in the characters Holmes and Watson encounter along their investigation. Bringing these three dozen characters to life is the immensely talented trio of Bahorek, Michael Glenn and Jane Pfitsch. Displaying a dazzling amount of comedic skill, together they create distinctive characters that will have you laughing from your gut. Highlights include Bahorek's sassy hotel clerk, Pfitsch's cockney message boy and Glenn's politically incorrect Scotland Yard detective.

Amanda Dehnert's directon is sharp and well executed. Whether it is through the wings, traps doors or the audience, Dehnert smartly uses each character's entrance and exit to enhance the atmosphere of a race to find the killer.

Wooddell and Hall are a perfect match as Holmes and Watson. As our narrator, Hall is excellent at showcasing Watson's fascination with Holmes and determination not to disappoint him. In return, Wooddall's Holmes is clever, curious, intelligent, slightly arrogant and demonstrates the ease with which these traits combine to serve him as England's leading detective.

Set Designer Daniel Ostling has imaginatively chosen to use minor props to create each setting in the play. The resulting effect has the set generating laughs as it channels some of Baskerville's more absurdist moments. Seriously though, after seeing Ostling's set, you'll never look at fake flowers the same way again.

Jess Goldstein's costumes are evocative of the prim and proper nature of Victorian England. They are well designed and those with a keen eye will be sure to watch how Bahorek, Glenn and Pfitsch navigate their countless quick changes.

If the show has any dead-ends it's that the humor in Ludwig's script, although prevalent, could be sharpened. Much of the laughs are the successful result of vivacious banter and witty repartee. However, the continual punch lines related to one character's accent gets tiresome in Act II.

For some theatergoers, the evening maybe reminiscent of A Gentleman's Guide to Love or Murder or The 39 Steps, shows which also feature actors playing multiple roles. Still, to create a hilarious murder mystery onstage, and one which keeps us guessing, is no small accomplishment. Produced in association with the McCarter Theatre Center, Baskerville is guaranteed to have amateur sleuths guessing and laughing until the end!

Runtime: One hour and 50 minutes with one intermission

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery plays thru February 22nd at Arena Stage 1101 6th Street, SW, Washington, D.C. 20024. For tickets, call (202) 488-3300 or purchase them online.

Photo: (L to R) Lucas Hall as Doctor Watson and Gregory Wooddell as Sherlock Holmes. Credit: Margot Schulman.


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