Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
The play begins with a frightening encounter on the moor and quickly moves to the famous Baker Street apartment. Nervous visitor Dr. John Mortimer has come to tell the legendary Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson about some strange goings-on at Baskerville Hall. Sir Charles Baskerville has died under very suspicious circumstances, a legendary beast is the prime suspect, and Baskerville's young heir may be in mortal danger. Holmes cannot resist such an intriguing story and soon he is neck deep in a mystery complete with threatening letters, missing clothes, strange characters, and hazardous mires.
Sherlock Holmes is played with delicious aplomb by Ian Merrill Peakes, and Bill Van Horn does double duty as director and a marvelously buffoonish Doctor Watson. All of the other characters in the productionand there are a whopping forty of themare performed by the ensemble's very funny threesome. Dan Hodge, Jered McLenigan, and Sarah Gliko employ an endless series of frenzied costume changes, wigs, mannerisms, and accents to portray an array of comic characters from lovestruck Texan to mysterious housekeeper and even giant dog.
The intimacy of Walnut's Independence Studio on 3 makes it a challenging space for a play brimming with sight gags. There are no trapdoors for hands to reach up, no flies for flowers to fall from, and little room for the set pieces or the elaborate props that have been so effectively deployed in other productions. Fortunately, the cast makes the most of the close quarters where they can. Subtle glances and grimaces are easy for the up-close audience to read and a few instances of audience interaction are truly hilarious. Peakes in particular appears comfortable engaging in these quick off the cuff exchanges.
Set designer Scott Groh also takes advantage of the tight space by creating a room at 221B Baker Street that instantly draws the audience in, with candlelit chandeliers overhead and wooden floor boards underfoot. Beyond the walls of Holmes' apartment most of the set changes are indicated by the clever lighting designs of J. Dominic Chacon. I particularly enjoyed when these rapid changes began to happen in response to a resonant snap of Holmes' fingers. That resonance, along with booming thunder and a snarl scary enough to make the most stoic viewer jump, come courtesy of top notch sound designer John Kolbinski. Kayla Speedy's lush costumes evoke the Victorian era without feeling like stuffy period pieces. Just as impressive is the way these elaborate dresses, wigs, and jackets are designed to be torn off or thrown on in a fraction of a second.
Philadelphia audiences will be the first to see this production before it becomes the eighth national and international tour of a Walnut Street Theatre production. Treat yourself to a little mystery and a lot of silliness and go see Baskerville before it slips out of town for good.
Baskerville, A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs through February 4, 2018, at the Walnut Street Theatre, Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut St., Philadelphia PA. Tickets are available at 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available at walnutstreettheatre.org or Ticketmaster.com. For more information on the tour, visit www.walnutstreettheatre.org/season/ontour.php.