The mystery stories of Sherlock Holmes have been re-told in many medium since they were penned over a hundred years ago. Text, comic books, radio dramas, movies, and TV thrillers have provided renditions, as well as nightly variations on the detective theme. Ken Ludwig has revisited the story of The Hounds of the Baskerville, for his contemporary play, Baskerville, A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. While he weaves the plot of the story into his play, the real mystery is how the actors finds so many characters in so few cast members.
I’ll leave the original story line for you to read. Holmes (Gregory Wooddell) and Watson (Lucas Hall) do their usual sleuthing, and out-sleuthing each other to discover and interpret the clues which will reveal the murderer, his method and motivation. The other three members of the cast, Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn, and Jane Pfitsch will become numerous house-keepers, butlers, shop owners, street urchins, escaped convicts, and other characters who have become a blur to my mind. The Man of Mystery (Milo Tindale) was so mysterious that I cannot even remember whether he ever showed up on stage. I even re-read his program bio to try to decide whether he was really just an other red-herring in this play full of sardines.
To support these three actors must have been host of dressers with costumes ready to change left or right stage in an instant. The energy that they generated with characters walking off stage only to return moments later with their tailored suit disappearing into a full-length gown, barely left me time to realize that it was intermission already.
Of course, the cast played this up for comic effect too. In one scene one male actor left the stage, having portrayed a female shopkeeper in a Victorian gown, ran back on stage in sweater, trousers, and argyle socks as one of the shop boys. The other boy, already on stage, whipped out a handkerchief so that the boy could wipe the red lipstick off while he recited his lines. In the final scene, when the scoundrel was revealed, the same actor had been playing both the intended victim (a Texan) and villain (an Englishman). Another character held both the cowboy hat and bowler hat. As the man switched between characters, being on stage at the same time, she merely switched his hats back and forth on his head. We had a great laugh while his two characters carried on a verbal battle on stage.
To accentuate the humor about mysteries both obscuring and illuminating, the staging played numerous jokes on us. With no curtain, before the play, we could see the black-box staging. Four rows of light bars stood left and right stage, with another series of four bars crossing overhead. Each row had 24 stage lights attached, for a total of 92 lights within our view. At the front of the stage were eight vaudeville era foot lights, mirrored with another eight foot lights at the back of the stage. Or, were we watching this play from behind the stage, thus able to see all of the technical things that would usually be hidden from our view. A good mystery keeps you guessing whether you are on the outside looking in, or the inside looking out.
To redouble our confusion, the floor was constantly opening up with trap doors of all sizes. Some elevated or swallowed up furniture. Others revealed hands, which might hold a prop from the actors to use, or whisk away something from the stage. Other traps, whistled with steam from train locomotives preparing to depart the station. If you were not confused enough about how those costume changes were happening, the sleight of hand of these trap doors was enough distraction to slip a clue into plain view at the right moment.
As with all Sherlock Holmes mysteries, Holmes solves the crime and fills us in on how all of the clues and distractions worked together to keep us going. If you hear the baying of the hounds on the moor at night, keep a light handy to be sure that the person whom you encounter is really not someone whom you mistook for the person you just left at the last scene.