“The Hound of the Baskervilles”
Written by Steven Canny & John Nicholson
Directed by Thomas Derrah
Scenic Designer . . . Carlos Aguilar
Costume Designer . . . Mallory Frers
Lighting Designer . . . Steven McIntosh
Sound Designer & Composer . . . Nathan Leigh
Assistant Sound Design . . . Sam Sewell
Stage Manager . . . Dominique R. Burford
Assistant Stage Manager/Properties Coordinator . . . Sylvia Bagaglia
Remo Airaldi . . . Sherlock Holmes, et al
Trent Mills . . . Sir Henry Baskerville, et al
Bill Mootos . . . Dr. Watson, et al
The Hound of the Baskervilles is probably Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous novel. It’s been in print since its first publication in 1902, and it’s been filmed at least twenty times, most successfully with Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes in 1939 and Peter Cushing in the same role in 1959. I proffer these statistics because the parody of The Hound that English comedy writers Steven Canny and Nicholson devised for a theater in Leeds, England seems not to have been off the boards terribly often since its creation four years ago. From Leeds it went to London, from London to Lenox, and from Lenox to Cambridge, where Central Square Theater offered it last summer as part of its Theater Leadership Program, and where now (September 7 – October 2) it is being presented as the theater’s opening production.
It’s easy to see why. It’s a hoot.
I won’t describe the plot – if you’re unfamiliar with it, read the book and then come back and finish reading this review – go ahead, I’ll wait – anyway, this production is remarkably faithful to it, in a funhouse mirror sort of way, and if you don’t count the boyishly homoerotic element to Watson’s relationship with Baskerville that doesn’t play an awfully big role in the original novel. Carlos Aguilar’s versatile set consists of a miniature proscenium theater which slides backwards and to the side to present a space empty except for a couple of movable cutout flats designed to look like hillocks. The miniature theater, complete with curtain and revolving walls, serves as Sherlock Holmes’s apartment and various rooms in Baskerville Manor. The rest of the stage serves as Grimpen Moor, where the gigantic hound seeks its prey.
Three very good actors cavort across this stage, mugging and doing pratfalls and playing all the roles in the story as well as (nominally) themselves. Remo Airalda, late of Robert Brustein’s American Repertory Theatre, gets the lion share of the roles: apart from the arrogant and touchy Holmes, he is a butler with an unconvincing beard, the butler’s wife (also with an unconvincing beard), a villainous scientist with a dubious accent who insists on calling the prospective victim of the piece “Vaskerbille”, and, most outrageously of all, the scientist’s South American “sister” who spends much of her time running from one corner of the stage to the other while fluttering her fan modestly and screeching in mock-Spanish like an angry monkey. It’s a tour de force for this accomplished comic actor.
Bill Mootos, who primarily plays Dr. Watson, is less frantic than Airaldi --– your average tornado is less frantic than Airaldi –-- but his facial expressions perfectly capture Watson’s intense determination and implacable dimness. His performance is a masterclass in controlled mugging.
Tall, beefy Trent Mills plays, among others, the Canadian heir to the Baskerville estate (confronted with the fact that his accent sounds Texan, he admits “I can’t do Canadian”). In Mills’s hands, not to mention the rest of him, Sir Henry Baskerville comes across as a big, amiable puppy with, as indicated earlier, a requited schoolboy crush on Watson.
Thomas Derrah’s direction keeps the pace fast –-- frantic, with interludes of hysteria --- without ever letting it ever getting out of control, and the abundant slapstick is expertly handled. Many of the gags are old enough to need walkers (“What kind of school did he work at, Holmes?” “Elementary, my dear Watson”), and although the beginning of the second act consists of a spectacularly virtuosic high-speed retelling of the events of the first act, the show’s hilarity runs out of steam near the end.
Central Square Theater’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is a sterling example of inspired silliness. It has no redeeming social value, and I urgently recommend it.
-- David Frieze