Sherlock Holmes spoof now at Everyman
Believe it or not, not everyone is a fan of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s creation, Sherlock Holmes. There’s a certain reproach for a man who seems to have all the answers, is ever in command, and whose lifelong companion, Dr. Watson, seems specifically designed to make him look superior.
That’s why such a character makes a wonderful target for comedy.
Fortunately for theater audiences everywhere, playwright Ken Ludwig has taken just such aim at the man in the deerstalker hat in his hilarious work, Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, now at the Everyman Theatre in downtown Baltimore.
Even non-fans may be aware of the 1902 tale of The Hound of the Baskervilles, the third of four crime novels Doyle wrote (it was considered the best of the four in a poll of “Sherlockians”).
Like the Doyle novel, Ludwig’s play introduces us to the legend of the hellhound of dark and dismal moors: a fierce dog with an apparent penchant for killing — in this case, anyone with the last name Baskerville.
The play opens with the un-comedic death of Sir Charles Baskerville, leaving one to think they are in for a purely dramatic stage adaptation of Doyle’s work. But let’s not jump to simple Watsonian conclusions.
As one scene melts into the next, we are carried via Everyman set designer Paige Hathaway’s multifarious modular and mechanical set to 22B Baker Street where we first meet Sherlock Holmes (Danny Gavigan), Dr. Watson (Tony Nam) and landlady Mrs. Hudson (Megan Anderson).
And the game is quickly afoot.
Five actors, 40 roles
Directed by Laura Kepley, the emphasis in this production is on the foot, as in fleet of, as the mere five members of the cast play 40 separate roles, making 69 quick changes of not merely costume, but accent, age, gender and ethnicity.
The comedy bursts forth with Anderson’s turn as Mrs. Hudson, who is loud, effusive and rather enamored of her tenants, with emphasis on the amour. This is not the elderly woman of “queenly tread” as Doyle describes her.
Ludwig has fashioned a funhouse-mirror version of Doyle’s characters: Holmes, manic and conceited; Drew Kopas’ Sir Henry, a rambunctious Texan (vs. the worn and shell-shocked Canadian of the novel); and the Baskerville Hall wait staff, John (Bruce Randolph Nelson) and Eliza (Anderson) Barrymore, two who would be more at home serving the Addams Family (kudos to wig designer Denise O’Brien for Eliza’s “Bride of Frankenstein” hair).
All have effusive energy not seen outside of a classic Marx Brothers movie. Except one: Nam’s Watson is the play’s straight man, serving as the grounding foil to all the fanciful funny folks darting and dashing around him.
Creative costumes, sets
Costume designer David Burdick’s colorful and layered designs (more than 100) facilitate the actors in their comedic turns.
The Unsung Hero Award goes to whomever is overseeing Kopas, Anderson and Nelson’s personal fitness, as their ability to transform themselves in seconds — from cockney urchin to butterfly-net-flying Mr. Stapleton to a Corsican hotel concierge to a half-deaf lady messenger to butler Barrymore (Nelson), from Hugo to Charles to Henry Barrymore to Inspector Lestrade (Kopas), from Mrs. Hudson to a wailing infant to a cab driver — is a superb and sweaty sight to behold.
Perhaps stage manager Cat Wallis had a few oxygen tanks on hand.
Set designer Hathaway deserves kudos as well for creating a set that can, with the pull of a few drawers or prop placement, transform from an opera house to Baskerville Hall to assorted offices and homes, with use of video screens to transform the stage into the Grimpen Mire bog or the heart of London.
As for the hound? Yes, he does make an appearance, as do several horses (well, stick ponies), all thanks to the efforts of puppet designer Dan Jones (so rest easy, no animals were harmed in the making of this play!).
The mystery is solved — though in the final scene, the stage is set (literally) for Holmes and Watson’s next adventure, which might be called “Dagger of Death: A Night at the Opera.”
And let us not forget the mystery of how actor Drew Kopas successfully appears on stage as two different characters simultaneously!
Want more clues? Check out this rollicking farce at the Everyman, a fun way to kick off your holiday season.
Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs just over two hours with a 15-minute intermission, with performances now through January 1, 2023. Tickets range from $29 to $63, depending on date of performance and seat location.
To purchase tickets, visit everymantheatre.org or call (410) 752-2208. Box office hours are weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.