By Barbara Anne Kirshner
Wait a minute — It’s a comedy!!
It’s hilarious Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery now playing at Theatre Three in Port Jefferson.
“Mr. Holmes, they were the footprints of a gigantic hound!” That exclamation conjures up ominous chords and the audience is immediately immersed in the murder mystery at bleak Baskerville Hall perched on the edge of the desolate fog-laden moors.
In Ken Ludwig’s (Lend Me A Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo, Crazy for You) adaptation of the 1901 Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel The Hound of the Baskervilles, he brilliantly takes this gothic classic and infuses it with comedy making for spine-tinglingly funny results.
The searching questions, who killed Sir Charles Baskerville and is there a legendary hound haunting Baskerville Hall, must be answered before another heir is murdered. Enter Sherlock Holmes (Evan Donnellan) and his sidekick, Dr. Watson, I presume, (Kevin Callahan). The brave duo ferret through contradicting clues and a host of suspicious characters in efforts to protect Henry Baskerville, the next heir who has just arrived from Texas.
Donnellan takes the stage in grandiose style. His Holmes is sly, elegant and capable. When he says he knows the print of every paper in the country, we believe him. Kevin Callahan’s Doctor Watson is so much fun. He tries to keep up with Holmes though often bungles, adding to the laughs, but his genuine investigative spirit makes him the perfect sidekick to Holmes. Together they are an invincible pair despite the labyrinth of deceit and intrigue they must face in attempting to solve this crime.
The original Conan Doyle mystery is chock full of characters all necessary in creating red herrings that keep the reader guessing until the final page. Ludwig realized he would need numerous characters to tell the story, so he inventively reduced his adaptation down to five actors — Holmes, Watson and the other three playing more than forty roles.
This challenge calls for extraordinary performers who must instantly change costumes while also changing accents, physicality and intentions, all the while making the audience believe each of their characters.
Director Christine Boehm has accomplished just that by assembling an outstanding supporting cast — Jonathan Sawyer Coffin, Elena Faverio and Ana McCasland — who change costumes as easily as they transform into different personas. This high energy threesome bounce snappy lines into the air wrapped in an array of accents.
Faverio’s German accent as Mrs. Barrymore is hysterically reminiscent of Cloris Leachman’s Frau Blücher in Young Frankenstein. Coffin’s booming southern drawl is a comical contradiction for the next in line of the Baskerville fortune. McCasland takes on the proper English of Dr. Mortimer as easily as she emotes the Castilian of the hotel proprietor. These outrageously high camp performances are met with rapturous laughter and applause from the audience that builds to an enthusiastic crescendo at curtain call.
Randall Parsons’ scenic design gives the necessary gothic feel with a gray backdrop detailed in swirls of black suggesting impending fog blanketing the moor. A giant screen, center, ingeniously projects settings and events. Lighting design by Robert Henderson, Jr. sets the eerie mood, then stirs things up with flashes of bright lights.
Chakira Doherty’s costume and wig designs are masterfully crafted. Actors, portraying numerous characters, must change in an instant and Doherty’s well-thought-out garments and coiffures make this task possible.
Tim Haggerty’s sound design is essential in instilling chills. Whether it be the cacophonous howling hound to the staccato of the chugging train to a deafening explosion, these sound effects build in both suspense and humor.
Since simplicity is key to this production, properties play a major part and Heather Rose Kuhn creatively plants scenes with the use of sparse props. A train is depicted with only a well-placed bench that morphs easily into a bed at Baskerville Hall for the next scene. A counter glides in and out representing Northumberland Hotel and giant wheels appear when Holmes refers to a cab.
All the twists and turns are captivating and hysterical as we follow Holmes and Watson to a startling conclusion that even gives way to an unexpected epilogue. So, take out your spyglass and join the intrepid pair on this thrilling and uproarious caper!
Theatre Three, 412 Main St., Port Jefferson presents Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery through Feb. 5. Tickets are $35 adults, $28 seniors and students, $20 children ages 5 and up. For more information, call 631-928-9100 or visit www.theatrethree.com.
See a sneak peek of the show here!