Bay Area Theater Review: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (TheatreWorks)

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by Stacy Trevenon on April 9, 2014

in Theater-San Francisco / Bay Area

A HOWLINGLY FUNNY BASKERVILLES SPOOF
IS MORE THAN ELEMENTARY

It turns out that you can teach an old dog new tricks, proven by TheatreWorks’ contemporary stage-spoof treatment of the 1901 Sherlock Holmes classic The Hound of the Baskervilles. Initially, as a longtime fan of Holmes and Watson and of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literature, I was skeptical. But it turned out to be a pleasant surprise: As a spoof, the story of a hound does indeed make for a very admirably done, howlingly fun evening of theater.

Ron Campbell, Darren Bridgett, and Michael Gene Sullivan in TheatreWorks' production of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Photo by Tracy Martin.Integrating the idea that familiarity breeds joviality, director Robert Kelley unleashed an intriguing and enjoyable tour de force with a respectful nod to the beloved Holmes story. The bevy of characters was amazingly presented by just three actors, who amazed with their well-defined characters and superb physical and comic timing. This trio delightfully juggled lines, costumes, door and window frames, boulders, and even a fireplace mantel that swooped down from above to convincingly sketch a wild English moorland and 19th-century country estate.

Michael Gene Sullivan, Ron Campbell and Darren Bridgett in TheatreWorks' production of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Photo by Tracy Martin.Ron Campbell deftly overlays the austerity of the master-reasoner Holmes with slapstick in both body language and facial expression. But he doesn’t stop there: He goes on to bring the audience a slate of other characters including a dour butler and a fetching girl tripping over the rocky moor landscape. Michael Gene Sullivan steers a steady course with a lot of stage time as the reliable Watson, though he too is not immune to the dry humor that pervades the story. And Darren Bridgett centers things as Sir Henry Baskerville, heir to the estate and a family curse that, we find, traces back to a disgruntled but greedy and unknown Baskerville lurking about the moor with his savage pet hound.

Darren Bridgett, Ron Campbell, and Michael Gene Sullivan in TheatreWorks' production of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Photo by Tracy Martin.Just as much a presence in the story is the Stagehand (Jed Parsario) who, both deadpan and engagingly expressive, darts here and there manipulating the scenery to help the story along.

And that’s not counting a crowd of dramatis personæ who pop in and out as cameos and supporting roles—including a Monty Pythonesque hermit—in this complex story. It was a treat for a Holmes fan such as myself that even in a parody, the lines, plot, and setting remain admirably true to Conan Doyle.

Darren Bridgett and Michael Gene Sullivan in TheatreWorks' production of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Photo by Mark Kitaoka.And the hound? He doesn’t appear except in imagination and through sound effects, both of which riveted me in a delicious combination of suspense and laughter.

Playwrights Steven Canny and John Nicholson jump on every chance offered them by the crime novel to discover the humor in the lines. Parody and burlesque are admirably interwoven in a way that supports the story and the era, whether characters “climb” out of a “window” with impish results or “sink” into the dangerous moorland bogs with side-splitting authenticity.

It turns out that even a dark family curse can be the basis of a bright and funny romp.

Darren Bridgett and Ron Campbell in TheatreWorks' production of THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES. Photo by Mark Kitaoka.photos by Mark Kitaoka and Tracy Martin

The Hound of the Baskervilles
TheatreWorks
Center for the Performing Arts
500 Castro Street in Mountain View
ends on April 27, 2014
for tickets, call 650.463.1960
or visit TheatreWorks

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