Regional Reviews: Phoenix
The play, like the novel, follows Holmes and Watson as they investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville who appears to have been killed on his estate by a large beast. The murder sets in motion a plot with plenty of twists and turns and colorful characters who believe that the death proves that the legendary curse on the Baskerville family, which involves a mysterious supernatural hound, isn't a legend after all.
I'm not certain if Ludwig was doing a take-off on the recent smash mystery comedy The 39 Steps in how he also uses just a few actors to portray dozens of characters. While it does provide many humorous moments and the three comic actors who play these multiple parts, Emily Mohney, Pasha Yamotahari and Toby Yatso, are delivering phenomenal performances, the comedy sometimes becomes so broad, and there is such an overabundance of music bits and extended comedy movements, that not everything succeeds. There are several times when it seems like the cast and director Robert Kolby Harper are throwing whatever they can out there to see what sticks, but a lot of it just falls flat or is only mildly funny.
Also, the character of Holmes is reduced almost to a supporting part as the story focuses more on Watson and his time at the Baskerville estate. Concerning the odd shifts in tone, there are numerous times when Watson is narrating the plot, much as he does in the books, but those times make for such a big shift from the zanier moments that come before them that they come across as slightly out of place. These shortcomings, plus the somewhat over the top comic bits and extended music cues, make Baskerville less successful and less funny than The 39 Steps whose main character is present virtually throughout the entire play, which gives it a solid focus, and whose comic elements are constant and consistent throughout.
With an abundance of quick costume and wig changes, nonstop humorous dialects, and well-crafted facial expressions, Emily Mohney, Pasha Yamotahari and Toby Yatso are simply sublime as they create multiple characters of both sexes. (Yamotahari and Yatso also played the two clowns in Phoenix Theatre's The 39 Steps in 2013.) Michael Jenkinson makes a very solid and layered Watson while Randy Messersmith's slightly subdued take on Holmes might be one reason why he seems less important to the plot.
Connie Furr's costumes and Daniel Davisson's lighting are lush and stunning as they evoke the many different locations and characters in the piece. However, there is some confusion as to what set designer Tiana Torrilhon was going for in her decision to use an abundance of angled wood planks on every set piece. While a revolving platform, a magnificent giant moon, and a few other moving elements that feature doors and windows work well, the numerous bits of wood don't help to signify either the grand Baskerville estate, Holmes' simple Baker Street residence, or the moors where much of the action takes place. The 39 Steps used a backstage setting to evoke the sense of imagination, yet these planks don't establish that idea of a backstage setting either.
Baskerville has some shortcomings, though I'll admit there were several times when I laughed out loud at the sheer genius of Mohney, Yamotahari and Yatso. With so much emphasis on the comical fast changes the three actors have from one character to another, if you're a fan of the more serious Sherlock Holmes' adaptations you may want to skip Baskerville. But if you enjoyed The 39 Steps you will probably relish the fast-paced antics of this very talented trio and the zany, over the top nature of Phoenix Theatre's production.
Phoenix Theatre's production of Baskerville runs through February 12th, 2017, with performances at the Phoenix Theatre at 100 E. McDowell Road in Phoenix. Tickets can be purchased at phoenixtheatre.com or by calling (602) 254-2151
Director: Robert Kolby Harper