Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous tale featuring everyone’s favorite deerstalker-dawned detective is being brought to life by the Delaware Theatre Company this fall. But not in the way one might suspect—not even by the great Sherlock Holmes, himself. To paraphrase the great detective; it’s a comedy, my dear Watson—a comedy.
Although The Hound of the Baskervilles is Doyle’s best known Holmes adventure, the author was not keen to write this, or any other Sherlock story—so much so that he killed off his protagonist just under a decade prior. But, The Hound of the Baskervilles was a command performance from the public and a much-needed payday for Doyle.
And so, Sherlock used his powers of deductive reasoning once more but not from the grave. Instead, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle set up this case as one that happened prior to Sherlock’s untimely death. Reading the original story, one can sense Doyle’s disdain for his main character. Sherlock is barely in this tale at all, and Watson is written to be more bumbling than he is astute. But what Doyle has done here is unwittingly set the stage for what could be (and is) a fantastic farce.
Enter playwrights Steven Canny and John Nicholson who have taken the main bits of this tale and turned them completely on their head. In the hands of these actors and with director Matt Pfeiffer (Heisenberg at DTC) at the helm, what unfurls is a tour de force farce of Shakespearean proportion—the abridged version that is.
Seemingly, taking a note from the Abridged Company’s adventures through the complete works of Shakespeare and American history, the clever script for The Hound of the Baskervilles calls for only three very skilled and extremely witty actors to layout this murder-mystery—each playing all of the 15 or so odd roles within.
One might deduce that such a feat would be impossible. But this production fully delivers and leaves the entire audience enthralled and laughing the whole time. It sort of feels like a bit of old Vaudeville, with a pinch of Mel Brooks, and a dash of Python mixed in.
The Hound of the Baskervilles’ Sherlock is not what most audiences might expect. Instead of the traditional 6” tall, pale, skinny and gaunt fellow, this production gives us the dark and handsome Damon Bonetti. Bonetti’s turn as Sherlock is more Marty Feldman as “Igor” in Young Frankenstein than Peter Cushing or Christopher Lee’s Sherlock, but perfectly lends itself to this cockamamie romp. I don’t think I laughed as hard as whenever Bonetti took the stage as Ms. Cecile Stapleton—what a looker (Marla Hooch… A League of Their Own… anyone…?)!
DTC audiences will recognize Dave Johnson as “Watson” from his previous runs in Hetty Feather and The Explorers Club. Johnson’s expert comedic timing and brilliant deadpan reactions harken back to Stan Laurel, while his movements reminded me of Bill Irwin and Michael Jeter (ya know, Mr. Noodle and his brother, Mr. Noodle from Elmo’s World).
Rounding out this mighty trio is Sean Close who plays at least eight characters by my tally—all with complete commitment and earnest fun (and sometimes fear). His long frame and rubber face helped bring a perfectly cartoonish quality to the show. At one point, I swear he and Johnson lifted right off the ground and revved their legs around in a circle à la Shaggy and Scooby.
A well-designed and well-executed set from set designer Meghan Jones anchors the piece in with a proscenium in the Victorian-style and a contrasting brick wall upstage that serves the story well in its quick changes in the locale. Strategic scene changes executed by the actors themselves and a small crew made for precision timed shifts that never left the audience waiting or wanting.
Alyssandra Docherty’s lighting design was spot on (pun intended), sound by Christopher Colucci and Lucas Campbell perfectly enhanced the story and humor in The Hound of the Baskervilles. Not to mention the expertly crafted costumes by Jillian Keys (whose designs in DTC’s Honk! last season left my daughter thoroughly enchanted). Keys’ design and construction for The Hound of the Baskervilles perfectly fit each character while granting the actors both flexibility in their choices onstage and their quick changes.
A quick shout out to an amazing tech crew led by Stage Manager, Alison Hassman. My personal friendship and previous work with Hassman aside—SM’s seriously don’t get enough credit for the tireless and strategic work they do, and Ali is one of the best around.
The Hound of the Baskervilles is sure to delight audiences of all ages. As a matter of fact, the demographics among the audience on the evening I attended would have any TV executive or politician salivating.
The Hound of the Baskervilles plays now through the end of September at the Delaware Theatre Company. For tickets, please visit www.DelawareTheatre.org or call 302.594.1100.