Regional Reviews: New Jersey
The Hound of the Baskervilles: British Stage Comic Adaptation Adroitly Staged by Theater Project
As this stage adaptation of The Hound of the Baskervilles begins, Sir Charles Baskerville is on the moor near Baskerville Hall when he hears howling, rushing winds, and other eerie night sounds. From the back of the auditorium a hulking figure with a scary presence advances onto the stage to attack him. Sir Charles cowering in fright, raises his arms to ward off his attacker, only to be knocked to the ground. He clutches his heart, and gasps and stiffens in a death throe. At this point, actor Scott Cagney rushes onto the stage and calls out, "Stop! Stop! Stop! Turn the lights up. Ladies and gentlemen, I'm extremely sorry to have to interrupt the performance. There should have been a safety announcement before the show began ..."
This reason is that The Hound of the Baskervilles being presented by Theater Project is the 2007 British comic stage adaptation of the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel is actually a play within a play. It is designed to be performed by three actors who play two dozen or so roles including men, women, animals and three provincial or community theatre-like preening, petulant actors who bear the names of our actual players. These actors wreak havoc with the play as they break from their Baskervilles roles to squabble, foul up, or, in one instance, berate a member of the audience.
When we get back to the Baskervilles, we meet Holmes and Dr. Watson who are intrigued by the murder of Sir Charles and a legendary curse involving a hellhound who has been seen on the moor seeking the blood of Baskervilles. Holmes and Watson meet with Sir Henry Baskerville, Sir Charles' nephew and heir newly arrived from Canada ("I don't know how to do a Canadian accent," interjects Sir Henry portrayer Nick Wolf). Sir Henry is worried about a note which has been delivered to his hotel warning him to stay away from Baskerville Hall for his own safety, but he is determined to go. It is agreed that Watson will accompany Sir Henry there, and that Holmes will join them later. This allows Holmes portrayer Peter Kendall to portray many of the men and women of Baskerville Hall and village. Amazingly, Holmes' delay in arriving at Baskerville Hall is taken directly from the novel.
Peter Kendall is appropriately maniacal as supercilious egotist Sherlock Holmes convinced of his superior reasoning and detection skills. Kendall enjoyably portrays Baskerville Hall's two servants, the butler Barrymore and his strange Spanish femme fatale wife Mrs. Barrymore, as well as the mysterious, moor-lurking Stapleton and his sister Cecile. Scott Cagney is delightful as a doggedly loyal Dr. Watson who repeatedly bounces back after Holmes snobbishly dismisses (and co-opts) his observations. Nick Wolf as a skittish Sir Charles matches his energetic fellow actors step for step.
Under Mark Spina's inventive directorial hand, the production is lively and quick, and nicely simulates an anarchy that makes it feel that there is an a degree of improvisation in the performance. It is apparent that Spina did create or, one might say, improvise, any number of comic bits to enhance the play.
The delightful, dimensional projections by Spina, Mary A. Iannelli and Karen Schulz are witty and serve the spare production effectively.
This adaptation was written by Steven Canny and John Nicholson with Nicholson's veteran English comedy stage troupe, Peepolykus, in mind. It appears to have been inspired by the 2005 British stage comedy version of the 1935 Alfred Hitchcock film The 39 Steps which has achieved wide popularity in London and the U.S.. Each play had a developmental production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds prior to its West End production.
The Hound of the Baskervilles continues performances (Evenings.: Thursday - Saturday 8 pm/ Matinees: Saturday 3 pm; Sunday 2 pm) through October 13, 2013 at the Theatre Project at the Burgdorff Center for the Performing Arts, 10 Durand Road, Maplewood, NJ; Box Office: 973-763-4029/ on-line: www.thetheaterproject.org.
The Hound of the Baskervilles adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson from the novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle; directed by Mark Spina