Theater Review: THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES (City Lit in Chicago)

by Lawrence Bommer on October 7, 2019

in Theater-Chicago

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Terry McCabe, artistic director of City Lit Theater, knows Sherlock Holmes and his shadow sleuth Dr. Watson almost as well as author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. His adaptations of their adventures combine storytelling urgency and narrative drive with crime solving at a perfect fever. Ever at stake and fully center stage is the passive-aggressive partnership of James Sparling’s prickly-perfect Baker Street sleuth and Adam Bitterman’s wonderfully willing chronicler-physician.

It’s a powerful fusion, Holmes’s seemingly miraculous powers of deduction and detachment and Watson’s dogsbody reliability. Perhaps the series’ most extravagant and seemingly supernatural case, 1902’s The Hound of the Baskervilles combines melodramatic elements, criminal psychology and a strangely romantic feel for the desolate, Brontë-like moors of Devonshire.

These Poe-like elements notwithstanding, McCabe’s staging discourages any camp overkill. McCable fully respects this world of suspense shrouded in speculation. His enterprising ten-person ensemble convey a much greater scene than their numbers suggest.

If Conan Doyle’s country tragedy offers a plethora of suspects but, alas, no great villain a la Professor Moriarty, the title creature is just as ferocious as memory recalls. A legendary canine continues a 500-year curse that only now visits the last of the Baskervilles.

When the clan’s patriarch Sir Charles is torn apart by a fanged avenger, the game’s afoot for our Baker Street irregulars, the “severely practical,” all-observing, pipe-smoking Holmes and his active amanuensis Dr. Holmes, our intrepid narrator.

Newly arrived from America, the new baronet Sir Henry Baskerville (Dylan Jost) is the proverbial “fish out of water” with his Ozark accent and innocent guile. We share and savor this dumbfounded Yank’s discovery of an isolated manse surrounded by Neolithic stones and the dreaded Great Grimpen Mire, among other gloomy local attractions. Perplexity ensues as his boots go missing.

“Powers of evil” are at wicked work here. Detecting their destruction falls to Watson as Holmes is away in London for almost half the tale dealing with a blackmail case. Discovering the noxious neighborhood, Watson meets the likes of a fellow physician (Dylan S. Roberts), keeper of the county’s scandals; the suspicious Baskerville butler (T.C. Fair) and his secret-sharing wife (Rebecca Sparks); an affable, clue-heavy postmaster (Alex Demetralis) and his helpful son (Hilary Henster).

Most confounding are the Stapleton brother and sister (David Fink and Sparks). Jack is a naturalist with a past. He knows the butterflies as well as the bogs and he strangely resents and resists Beryl’s half-hearted dalliances with open-hearted Sir Henry. The remaining unusual suspects include a village litigator (Jerry Bloom), his compromised daughter (Hensler), and an escaped “Notting Hill murderer” (Demetralis), at large amid the marshes.

When Holmes finally makes the scene, the action plays out splendidly: Our detectives force the horrible hound and his evil owner to reveal their nefarious skullduggery.

In hindsight the dastard’s dirty deeds seem too convoluted to have succeeded. But you don’t have to be a mastermind to be dangerous, especially when you can breed a monster mutt to equal his carnivorous predecessor. (Perhaps man’s best friend is really a cat.)

With original music by Ben Chang and an ensemble that’s more than game, The Hound of the Baskervilles offers its own credible answer to Conan Doyle’s ageless question: “What is the meaning of it, Watson? What object is served by this circle of misery and violence and fear? It must tend to some end, or our universe is ruled by chance, which is unthinkable.”


photos by Steve Graue

The Hound of the Baskervilles
City Lit
Edgewater Presbyterian Church
1020 West Bryn Mawr Ave.
Fri and Sat at 7:30; Sun at 3;
Mon at 7:30 (Oct 28 & Nov 4)
ends on November 10, 2019
for tickets, call 773.293.3682 or visit City Lit

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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