Having grown up devouring stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Sherlockian stories in particular, I was curious to see how this rendition of the classic would run.
Verdict? This is not your father’s Hound of the Baskervilles.
The show is wonderfully directed by Mark Shanahan, who has a great command of comedic timing. He uses every inch of the stage at the Wells Theatre, with the actors repeatedly making entrances and exits from multiple vantage points. Shanahan has created a fast and fluid production that starts with a growl and continues on at a breakneck speed. Truly this show is devoid of any lulls. Shanahan has created some extremely wonderful moments, one of my favorite being a scene in which the actors recreate portraits of the former owners of Baskerville Hall. It’s a truly hilarious scene that left the audience rolling.
The cast itself is a wonderful blend of characters who seem like they are in a competition to see whom can be the most outrageous. In this production, three cast members play all the characters, and they do so with a ferocity bordering on madness. Their versatility is a joy to watch and every choice by the director emphasizes their tight chemistry.
Patrick Halley plays the titular character of Sherlock Holmes. He does so with an self-satisfied attitude that is more charming than insufferable. He also serves as a number of other characters and it is here that he truly shines, especially as the Latin temptress Cecile. His sidekick Watson is played by Bruce Warren, and this is played with a lovely reverence for both the source material as well as the show’s version of the character. Warren shows some wonderful forced concentration, alert to all that is around him and is really the driving force in much of the second act. I loved every second of his thoughts on puzzles and I thought it was a perfect delivery for a character that tends to get bogged down with one thought. Steve Pacek was a standout for me in this cast, which is hard to accomplish with so much talent. He is a ball of energy and has such an earnest and lovable character that the audience was rooting for him not to be murdered. Pancek has a wonderful charm about him — and truly the only negative that can be said of him is his lack of a Canadian accent.
It is not often that a review gets to mention the backstage work, and when it does it usually is not for a positive reason. However in this production, the technical aspects of the show are the driving force behind much of the comedy. Lighting by John Ambrosone is spot on, no pun intended. In a show with a “minimal” set, Ambrosone makes the most of every part of the stage. Everything is lit beautifully and even in the absence of light, the planning is extremely evident. Sound by Sean Hagerty is superb. The show has too many sound cues to count and I sat amazed as each and every cue was fired in perfect synchronization with the actors movements. From the barks and growls of dogs, to the gunshots which may or may not go off, each sound adds so much to the show.
Costumes by Jeni Schaefer were nothing short of wonderful. In a show where three actors play all the rolls, some ingenious costuming choices have to be employed. From full length dresses that went on and off in a flash, to beard/caps, to glasses with beards attached, each costume was designed to maximize laughs while affording the actors the easiest possible transitions, and the actors seem totally at home changing costumes and characters as fast as they can behind the scenes — and sometimes right before our eyes.
The set design by Charlie Corcoran followed the same guidelines. Simple, yet elegant and amazingly useful. Doors and signs that popped out and furniture that gave the impressions of rooms were all used extremely well. I think my favorite transition was a transition from inside Bakersfield to the street. Entirely unexpected, but a showcase to the smart use of scenery, down to the pictures behind the curtains, just in case. Finally, Brianna Valderrey has managed a wonderful — yet I am sure stressful — show. Her crew expertly caught clothing as it was tossed offstage, lined up set pieces and kept track of a dizzying amount of props. This was extremely evident at the top of act two where the audience is treated to a recap of the first act at a dizzying pace.
All in all, The Hound of the Baskervilles at the Virginia Stage Company is a fun updated romp that Sherlock purists may not entirely be on board with, but that everyone can have fun with. I would definitely recommend taking a trip to the Devonshire to the imposing Baskerville Hall. Just watch what you tweet at intermission!
Hound of the Baskervilles plays through March 11 at the Wells Theater in downtown Norfolk. Tickets here.