Photo courtesy of Roger Mastroianni

Rafael Untalan Sherlock Holmes left, and Brian Owen right, perform Act I at Cleveland Playhouse on Euclid Avenue.

 

February 7, 2017

Howl with laughter at CPH’s ‘Baskerville’

“And can he relieve the tedium of our mortal lives?” asks a bored Sherlock Holmes to his  companion Dr. John Watson as a new client rings the bell at 221B Baker St. during “Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.”

Theatergoers often ask the same question, hoping that a play helps them escape into a story more interesting and entertaining than their own. The Cleveland Play House’s current production certainly does.

Sir Henry Baskerville has just inherited a large fortune and with it a deadly curse. For generations, a supernatural force howls in the moors surrounding his home in Devonshire and hunts down and kills a member of the Baskerville family.

Fearing for his life, Sir Henry employs the services of the greatest detective (Rafael Untalan) and his faithful sidekick (Jacob James) to find the truth about the legend of the Baskerville Hound.
Based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1901 novel, playwright Ken Ludwig’s 2015 play turns the murder mystery into a hilarious comedy. 

While the witty dialogue gets plenty of laughs, much of the show’s success can be credited to director Brendon Fox, who gives his actors Brian Owen, Evan Alexander Smith, and Nisi Sturgis plenty of freedom in their madcap portrayal of almost 40 secondary characters in the play. They sprint, spin, and cartwheel on and off stage and employ unique accents, quick-change costuming and a variety of mannerisms that help distinguish one character from another.

James is a wonderful Watson, who acts as the audience’s omnipresent and down-to-earth narrator. But the title character in this play is treated almost as an afterthought. Although undeniably intelligent, this Holmes as portrayed by Untalan regrettably lacks the clever and often sadistic arrogance that is so tied to the literary version of the detective.

The melodramatic music by Victoria Deiorio, the atmospheric lighting by Peter Maradudin, and the creation of scenic backdrops that represent Devonshire and London by Timothy R. Mackabee provide all that is necessary for the cast to create the many other locations called for in the play using free-standing objects. 

These objects are used as props that add to the humor, such as when characters half-way crawl through a window frame, which turns around as they crawl the rest of the way through to give the impression of going from the outside of a residence to its inside.

The remarkable period costuming, designed by Lex Liang, and its adaptability for quick changes on and off the stage are anything but elementary. And some of the funniest moments in the play are when the actors intentionally comment on the frequency and complexity of those changes, draw out their dialogue for the sake of providing more time for a change, or abruptly run off stage to make their next transition. 

All this in under two hours of entertainment.   “Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” is anything but mundane.

What: “Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery”
Where: The Allen Theatre, 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland.
When: Through Feb. 12. Tickets & Info: $25-$110, call 216-241-6000 or visit clevelandplayhouse.com



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