The fog rolls across the dusky moor. A once-thought-mythical beast roams and roars. Mystery enshrouds the death of a wealthy resident of Baskerville. It can mean only one thing: it's time to lure London detective Sherlock Holmes, along with his consort and sincere admirer, Dr. John Watson (Eric Du), to the country to sort all this out.
It also must hint that it's that spooky season, Halloween, when folks are up for a good mystery. Especially when that mystery is served up with jolly jests and a silly sensibility.
Live Theatre Workshop, in the spirit of the season, delivers Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery with a delicious dose of the silliness intended. It's a fun piece that capitalizes on its rural setting away from the big city and from an always fun theatrical convention in which three actors play about 40 characters.
The tale itself is a convoluted one, and is full of twists befitting the complications of a Holmes and Watson case. Simply said, if such is possible: Holmes (Stephen Frankenfield) is approached by a Dr. Mortimer (Steve Wood, in one of many roles) with a request to look into the recent death of the reigning lord of Baskerville because the heir, Sir Henry (Matthew C. Copley, also in merely one of his roles) from the great state of Texas, has come to town to claim his inheritance. But he is being followed and threatened and, Mortimer fears, is about to be drawn into the unfortunate grip of the Baskerville curse. Holmes declines his involvement but sends Watson, entrusting him to keep Holmes informed.
Watson and Sir Henry meet the weirdo caretakers of the Baskerville estate and their neighbors, the Stapletons, who are pretty weird in their own way. There are complications, of course, and quite frankly, confusing ones. Ultimately, the story gets sorted out, enough at least to satisfy us, I suppose, and underscores again the impressive wits of Holmes.
Really, though, the story exists mostly to exploit the fun of having actors taking on numerous roles with the requisite swift costume changes and broad suggestions of their characters. Here, Holmes and Watson are the straight men, while Wood, Copley and Debbie Runge are the real stars.
And they are up to the challenge. This stuff is actually quite challenging, especially if you have the technical limitations of the LTW stage. But we are invited along on a bumpy ride, and it's those bumps that make it interesting.
Ludwig borrows rather freely from other sources, just as he has appropriated the Holmes story. The caretakers of Baskerville manor have more than a bit of the flavor of Frau Blucher and Igor in Young Frankenstein, although popping eyeballs give way to Mr. Barrymore's (Wood) ill-formed hand and a face hidden by dark hair. His wife has an exaggerated accent in which "v's" and "w's" are switched, and Runge draws out her words to be so lengthy that it's hard sometimes to know what she's saying, but it lends great comedy. But we understand enough. Wood's bizarre butterfly-chasing Stapleton is clearly not as benign as he initially seems. Wood, always fun to watch, lends a crispness to his transformations into assorted other characters.
Copley also entertains as he expands on the character of the rootin' tootin' Sir Henry from Texas, landing quite comically on the murky moors of rural England. Copley lends his efforts to a few other personas in the madness as well.
Frankenfield, a familiar LTW face, delivers a pleasing version of Holmes, conjuring constantly as he pops in and out of the story, and taking on a disguise or two himself. Du, a newcomer to LTW, is a very youthful Watson, but leads the way through the mysterious proceedings quite capably.
The theatrical magic is extended to Glen Bucy's set design, always a challenge for the small LTW stage. Here he uses pocket doors storing panels on which are represented the number of locales the story involves. And Brian McElroy's sound design adds richly to the movement and tone of the proceedings.
Costumer Stephanie Frankenfield had quite a task not only designing for a small army of characters, but also needing to make sure that those costumes could come off and on easily enough for the actors to make quick changes. She—and whoever was involved in helping the actors to make those changes—did an admirable job.
Director Christopher Moseley has rounded up some good actors and patched all the pieces together as best he could in this crazy quilt of a story. It's not the farce we have come to associate with Ludwig, who wrote Lend Me a Tenor and Moon Over Buffalo. There are plenty of laughs, yes, but they are of the softer kind. Not that there's anything wrong with that, of course, except that it feels sometimes like the play is getting in the way of itself. Too much explaining the complicated plot rather than just letting 'er rip.
But it's fun. Lots of grins. And the actors give us a gaggle of wacky characters with great gusto. And although given more than a bit of a twist, it is, after all, Sherlock Holmes.