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The game is afoot in Rohnert Park with the Spreckels Theatre Company’s rollicking production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, running now through October 9. Playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Leading Ladies, Moon Over Buffalo) has taken his farcical skills to the beloved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson and draped his tomfoolery around their most famous adventure – The Hound of the Baskervilles.
Sir Henry Baskerville has been found dead, perhaps a victim of the infamous Baskerville curse. With the last remaining heir to the Baskerville fortune arriving from America and his life in certain danger, Holmes (Stephen Cannon) and Watson (Chris Schloemp) are asked to take the case. Before you can say 221 B Baker Street, they’re off to the Great Grimpen Mire and Baskerville Hall…
…and that’s where the dark and mysterious Conan Doyle ends and the Ludwig silliness begins. With a non-stop flow of jokes, visual humor, quick changes and slapstick comedy, Holmes purists may be appalled at what Ludwig has done, but the end result is an often clever, very funny show that still manages to treat Holmes and Watson with an appropriate amount of reverence and keep the basics of the original story intact.
Holmes is not the butt of jokes here, and is mostly the rock around which all the insanity revolves. Truth be told, the lead in this version is actually Watson, as Holmes sends Watson off to accompany the Baskerville heir and begin the investigation. That being said, I wish Cannon had delivered a bit more character than he does, as the Holmes who has been described as intelligent, witty, stubborn, egocentric, cunning, arrogant, observant, loyal, methodical, rude and bohemian is largely absent. Cannon, who looks the part and has a great deal of the character’s physicality down, is far too one-note in his interpretation of the dynamic character and puzzlingly bland. Schloemp, however, is a deadpan wonder as Dr. Watson and generates a lot of laughs as his serious man of medicine ends up in more and more ridiculous situations.
The bulk of the show’s humor is provided by the thirty-odd other characters, all played by three actors (Zane Walters, Kim Williams and Larry Williams) who seem to be having a blast. The humor ranges from the groan-inducing to the laugh-out-loud as they take turns portraying every other character from the novel. Who isn’t on stage at any particular moment takes on whatever role enters next, regardless of gender or age. Outlandish accents, ludicrous beards, comical costumes and preposterous props (the hound will make you gasp, groan, or giggle) add to the fun, particularly when there’s not quite enough time to affect a full change. All three performers are on full throttle and manage to maintain the comedic energy level from start to finish. Shows like this tend to run out of gas before they end, but these performers simply don’t allow it.
Director David L. Yen works his cast hard and it pays off in laughs. He has also injected additional bits and inside humor for audiences to discover and has ingeniously and effectively worked the renowned Spreckels Projection system into the show. Even it gets a laugh.
So if it’s laughs you’re looking for, allow me to paraphrase Mr. Holmes in regard to the Spreckels Theatre Company production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery –
“Come at once if convenient — if inconvenient come all the same.“
Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
Presented by The Spreckels Theatre Company
through October 9
Fri/Sat @ 8pm, Sun@ 2pm, Thurs, Oct 6 @ 7:30pm
Spreckels Performing Arts Center
5409 Snyder Lane
Rohnert Park, CA 94928
Photos by Eric Chazankin