Produced by: TheatreWorks
Featuring: Ron Campbell as Holmes, Michael Gene Sullivan as Watson, and Darren Bridgett as Baskerville (the three play 20 roles among them; and "stagehands" Jed Parsario and Alfred Rudolph
Directed by: Robert Kelley
When: April 2-27, 2014
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View, California
Tickets:$19-$73 (discounts available). Call 650-463-1960 or visit TheatreWorks
Read John Orr's review in Regarding Arts.
Read karen D'Souza's review in the Mercury News.
Recipe for a howling good evening of fun at the theater:
Take a dash of Red Skelton's elastic facial expressions, Carol Burnett's side-splitting double takes, a young Robin Williams' non-stop slapstick, then throw in a smidge of droll Steve Martin, a huge portion of quick-change artist Houdini, and whip it all into a frenzy, Monty Python-style. What do you get?
Well, what you get is some sense of what's happening onstage at TheatreWorks six days a week (and twice a day on some Saturdays and Sundays) through April 27, 2014, at the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts.
It's called "The Hound of the Baskervilles," but it is unlike any other Sherlock Holmes-themed production ever created. And that's saying something considering that the wily British detective holds the Guinness World Record for being the most frequently used human literary character in both film and television. Face it: The ubiquitous Holmes is everywhere these days!
For TheatreWorks, three resourceful actors create enough silliness on stage to tickle the funny bone of the most blasé seventh grader, but because it's all done with such artistic skillfulness and feigned seriousness, adults are as blown away as youngsters.
Credit Ron Campbell (playing Sherlock Holmes and a slew of other characters including two women), a young Harrison Ford-lookalike Darren Bridgett as the handsome Sir Henry Baskerville (and lots of Baskerville relatives), and Michael Gene Sullivan as Dr. Watson, with jumping in and out of 20 roles that encompass dozens of costume changes always with split-second timing. It's just sheer joy (and many guffaws) to witness.
To explain this Steven Canny-John Nicholson version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's beloved story probably belittles it. Yes, it does follow the original story line, but it's quite easy to not notice (and not care). First there's the matter of the actors starting and stopping the play at will, talking to the audience directly and then bouncing back into their characters at the drop of an arched eyebrow.
One of the funniest bits comes when Campbell storms out after intermission, carrying a note that was delivered backstage. He's upset that 103 people in the audience have signed the note stating that they couldn't understand him in the first act, so the three unanimously decide to repeat Act 1 at warp speed. That's exactly what they do, somewhat in the form of Shakespeare's "complete works in an hour." But their version takes a side-splitting five minutes. At the end of it, Campbell walks up to the footlights and smirks, "Are you happy now, Mr. House??"
This particular spoof of Conan Doyle's masterpiece was born in 2007, created by Canny and Nicholson for Peepolykus, a Bristol, England, comedy group described as "a collision of anarchic verbal slapstick, visual surprises, absurd scenarios and sublimely ridiculous comic performances." It was so wildly popular that it transferred to London's West End for a successful run. In 2009 a Massachusetts theatre company, Shakespeare & Co, performed the zany adaptation (to rave reviews) for the first time in the U.S.
It was surely a hoot for TheatreWorks' storied artistic director Robert Kelley a self-proclaimed Sherlock Holmes fan to bring this production to life. It's likely he relied heavily on the astounding versatility and creativity of the agreeable trio who run rampant over the script, the stage and (frequently) the sensibilities of the audience.
With the most costume/character changes by far, Campbell draws upon his years as both a clown with Cirque du Soleil as well as a stint as Chef Cecil B. DeGrille in the San Francisco and Seattle productions of the much-acclaimed Teatro Zinzanni. How he is able to change his characters, his costumes and say the right lines in the blink of an eye is comically unnerving.
Bridgett bares not only his soul but, frequently, a good portion of his manly physique (he seems to misplace his pants a lot). He's at his most charming when he flashes that Harrison Ford smile and acts even more confused that he usually is. And, while Sullivan has what he himself calls the "least funny character," he makes the most of it with impish appeal and bug-eyed delivery of his lines.
Nope, there's not a false note in this "Hound." Andrea Bechert's scenic design is a knockout, with Holmes' 221B Baker Street living room flying in from above and the sides quickly, Steven B. Mannshardt's lighting and Cliff Caruthers' sound working seamlessly and B. Modern's multitude of marvelous costumes coming on and off flawlessly. (One funny moment late in the show is when Bridgett pulls off Campbell's Lady Cecile costume and dances away with it the audience hears the Velcro ripping so that Campbell can dash offstage to get into his detective attire.)
That's only one of the numerous quick changes performed in the wings, so a major shout-out to dressers Tanya Finkelstein, Thom Hoffman and Brooke Jennings. Special effects like the "fog" liberally sprinkled throughout the evening by the peripatetic stagehands (a playful Jed Parsario and Alfred Rudolph) are other highlights. Actually, everything's a highlight. Give yourself a lift by spending a couple of hours with the hounds, the sounds, the giggles, the squiggles, the theatrical joy of this totally captivating production.
Email Joanne Engelhardt at email@example.com