Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Hound of the Baskervilles

Joe Higgins as Mr. Frankland, Michael RJ Campbell as Dr. John Watson
and Sean Patrick Nill as Jack Stapleton perform in
Sacramento Theatre Company’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Barry Wisdom Photography/Courtesy photo
Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Dr. Watson are traipsing out onto the moors now to solve the crimes of the mysterious “Hound of the Baskervilles,” at Sacramento Theatre Company,

This adaptation is by playwrights R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette, who have kept the basic mystery intact while adding bits of humor between Holmes and Watson as well as some plot and character twists along the way.

Reprising their roles as Sherlock and Watson from STC’s 2011 production of “Sherlock Holmes: the Final Adventure” are William Elsman and Michael RJ Campbell, respectively, both of whom give impeccable performances. Elsman is tall and erudite and sees clues that no one else catches; Campbell is the blustery, sometimes sardonic, always-faithful Watson. He is the “human element” that the OCD Holmes relies on in order to connect with a case’s human side.

The play begins in Holmes’ drawing room, where he is complaining to Watson that life is boring and that his most recent crimes have offered him no challenge. Right on cue, a challenging case comes knocking at his door in the person of Dr. James Mortimer (Casey McClellan).

The wealthy Sir Charles Baskerville has been found dead in his home, seemingly of natural causes, but Mortimer is suspicious because Sir Charles died with an expression of horror on his face and he noticed “the footprints of a gigantic hound” nearby.

The Baskerville family supposedly has been under a curse since the era of the English Civil War, when Hugo Baskerville offered his soul to the devil for help in abducting a woman; he reportedly was killed by a giant spectral hound. Sir Charles believed in the curse and apparently was running away from something when he died.

Mortimer fears for the life of Charles’ heir, Sir Henry (“call me Hank”) Baskerville (Dan Fagan), a cowboy from Canada. Hank is unconcerned about the curse, despite a mysterious anonymous warning note he receives, and moves into Baskerville Hall anyway.

Holmes finds the mystery intriguing though he claims he has another matter to attend to. He sends Watson to observe the goings-on and meet the local characters — each of whom has his or her own reason to have wanted Sir Charles dead. (Holmes, in the meantime is doing his own investigation, unbeknownst to Watson.)

Others in the cast include Matthew Rives as the butler Barrymore, Cynthia Speakman as his wife, and Aviva Pressman and Sean Patrick Nill as the neighbors, Beryl and Jack Stapleton. Some have projection problems and their lines were lost.

What makes this production so much fun is the scenic design by Jarrod Bodensteiner and Renee Degarmo and the lighting design of Jessica Bertine. While the whole stage is a rocky section of the Devonshire moor, pools of light focus on smaller scenes while the setting is soundlessly changed on the other side of the stage, the technicians working in pitch darkness.

William Myers’ sound effects, particularly the creepy growls and attacks of the hound, add a particular creepy quality to the story.

You can never go wrong with a good Sherlock Holmes mystery, and with the likes of Elsman and Campbell at the helm under the direction of Michael Laun, this one is a winner.

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