Friday, July 04, 2014

The Hound of the Baskervilles

How do you write a review about a show that you can’t really talk about without spoiling the fun?

That is the dilemma I am struggling with in reviewing “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” which opened recently at the B Street Theatre.

Set aside any preconceived notion you may have about Sherlock Holmes mysteries. This wacky adaptation of the familiar Arthur Conan Doyle story by Steven Canny and John Nicholson could have been written for the Marx Brothers or The Three Stooges.

All the characters are played by three talented actors. Greg Alexander is mostly the befuddled Dr. Watson, gone to investigate a suspicious murder in Holmes’ stead. Jason Kuykendall is mostly Holmes, though also plays a few other memorable characters, of both genders, while John Lamb is everybody else. I suspect that it must look like Act 2 of “Noises Off” backstage most of the time, with all the quick — very quick — costume changes that go on.

(The costumes by Paulette Sand-Gilbert take a lot of wear and tear and seem to hold up well.)

But as things speed up, there are on-stage costume changes, too, with conveniently placed scarves, hanks of hair, wigs, hats and what have you sitting around the stage or in containers that double as furniture. There is a hilarious tour through the Baskerville family portrait gallery, which is one of the funniest bits in a long line of very funny bits.

Definite kudos go to props intern Brianne Kuffell for keeping all the props straight and easily accessible.

In addition to playing the characters from the Holmes story, the actors also are playing actors, conveniently named Greg, Jason and John, who are forever conferring with each other and with the audience regarding things that have just taken place.

And when a section of the script seems unclear, well … let’s just do it again, double-time. And they do.

A show like this requires a fairly minimal set to allow for all the physical comedy, and Samantha Reno has designed a set that can be moved in countless ways, while a backdrop projects scenes of wherever the cast is supposed to be, whether out on the moors, in a fancy hotel or at 221B Baker St.

Director Buck Busfield adroitly walks that fine line between believability, however silly, and over-the-top camp, and gives the audience sort of the actual Conan Doyle story, but which will never be quite the same again.

Not being an expert on Sherlock Holmes, I can’t know in my gut what a real aficionado would think of a beloved classic treated in such a fashion, but the opening-night audience didn’t stop laughing throughout the two acts, and I think that is high praise indeed.

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