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Baskerville – Arena Stage

Jordan Wright
January 27, 2014
Special to The Alexandria Time

(L to R) Lucas Hall as Doctor Watson and Gregory Wooddell as Sherlock Holmes - Photo by Margot Schulman.

(L to R) Lucas Hall as Doctor Watson and Gregory Wooddell as Sherlock Holmes - Photo by Margot Schulman.

As I enjoy the second mountainously entertaining Ken Ludwig drawing room comedy in less than a week, I am reminded that the Washington-based American playwright is anything but British.  So how does he nail the veddy, veddy stiff-upper-lip satire that evokes the stories of P. G. Wodehouse?  Ludwig draws on the schadenfreude of watching the posh get their comeuppance, a premise employed in many of his comedies, and one in which we can all delight.

In Arena Stage’s premiere of Baskerville Ludwig concocts his fiction around Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson, as in The Game’s Afoot, (reviewed here last week).

(L to R) Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn and Gregory Wooddell - Photo by Margot Schulman.

(L to R) Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn and Gregory Wooddell - Photo by Margot Schulman.

For “the greatest, most dangerous case, in his remarkable career”, as sidekick Watson describes it, Holmes must uncover the murderer of Sir Hugo, the lord of Baskerville.  As it is revealed the haunting creature, rumored to be “a great black beast”, roams the moors and rips out the throats of its victims.  (A charming thought referencing Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”.)  When the big-hearted Texan, Sir Henry, arrives to claim his rightful stake in the Devonshire estate “Y’all got anything out here I can shoot?” the plot gets curiouser and curiouser.

L to R) Michael Glenn and Jane Pfitsch - Photo by Margot Schulman.

L to R) Michael Glenn and Jane Pfitsch - Photo by Margot Schulman.

Gregory Wooddell plays Holmes, Lucas Hall, Doctor Watson, and four other actors Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn, Jane Pfitsch and Milo Tindale, play dozens of roles while dashing offstage lickety-split for changes of both costume and character.  By the second act the audience is clued in to the madness of the quick change as hats, wigs and props are tossed off stage in full sight and characters and props burst forth from five trapdoors embedded in the stage floor.

(L to R) Gregory Wooddell, Lucas Hall  and Stanley Bahorek - Photo by Margot Schulman.

(L to R) Gregory Wooddell, Lucas Hall and Stanley Bahorek - Photo by Margot Schulman.

As you may imagine the crew is as crucial in the production’s helter-skelter pace as the actors - - and neither disappoints.  Sound effects from storms and trains, lighting from vaudeville period stage lights to spots in full view, and props, some of which descend from above, all contribute to the haunting atmospherics as scenes change as rapidly as the costumes and roles.  There is a night at the opera, the fog of the “gimpenmeyer” that swallows ponies, Sherlock’s bespoke study, the creepy castle and multiple scene and costume changes that require lightening quick switcheroos.

Jess Goldstein created the period costumes, Philip S. Rosenberg designed the dramatic lighting effects, Joshua Horvath and Raymond Nardelli created the sounds, and Gillian Lane-Pescia trained the actors in the multiple dialects.  I noted Scottish, English, Texan, Cockney, Russian, German and Spanish.  Bahorek mines a lisping Spanish accent as a campy concierge in charge of a luxury hotel where there has been some, need I say, very questionable activity.  Bear in mind this was written before this year’s Golden Globes-winning movie “The Grand Budapest Hotel” which closely mirrors Ralph Fiennes role as the madcap concierge.

Stanley Bahorek in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville -Photo by Margot Schulman.

Stanley Bahorek in Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville -Photo by Margot Schulman.

Director Amanda Dehnert, whose background is mainly in Shakespeare’s plays, does a bang-up job with the pacing, turning a complex production into a seemingly effortless, entirely hilarious, Brit-wit romp.

Highly recommended.

Through February 22nd at Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St., SE, Washington, DC 20024.  For tickets and information call 202 488-3300 or visit www.ArenaStage.org.

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