note: entire contents copyright 2011 by Lynn Heinemann
The man at the snack bar of Central Square Theater's "Thirsty Fang's" cafe wore the familiar Inverness cape and deerstalker cap, and carried a meerschaum pipe and a magnifying glass. But would the great Sherlock Holmes really need to inquire about the location of the rest rooms?
This impersonator was a schoolteacher, preceding a group of approximately 20 kids who were in for a theatrical treat.
Or was he?
In the topsy-turvy world of Steven Canny and John Nicholson, playwrights of the three-man "Baskerville" burlesque, anything is possible.
Behind a scrim bearing the words "The Hound of the Baskervilles" we witness the mysterious demise of Sir Charles Baskerville.
Or do we?
As Sir Charles (one of the many roles played by Trent Mills) gasps his last, actor Bill Mootos scurries up the aisles calling for house lights and apologizing for being late with his curtain speech. He introduces his fellow members the Stellar Traveling Dramatists (the STDs), provides emergency evacuation advice, assures the audience that all of the parts will be played by members of the cast, and exhorts said audience to unwrap their cell phones and silence their candies.
Thus begins a zany retelling of the classic mystery by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, in which all the major plot points are hit, and in fact, beaten senseless. When the great detective (played by Remo Airaldi) makes astounding deductions, his eager if witless partner Watson (played by Bill Mootos) coos in admiration, even as Holmes assures him, "You're not useless Watson. You're here to illuminate me." And Sir Henry Baskerville (played by Trent Mills) risks his life to claim the Baskerville estate and find love on the moors.
Thomas Derrah adroitly directs his nimble three-man team through the quick changes of characters, costumes, and decidedly low-tech scenery. Rolling trunks become the setting for a steam room, in which only Sir Henry is disrobed and clad in a towel. Holmes and Watson enter, wearing their towels around their coats. One-dimensional boulders on wheels become the setting for the moors, a hanging arrangement of pillows and a curved shower rod becomes a vertical bed, and pivoting flats provide an assortment of rooms in Baskerville Hall.
The first act ends when the forward momentum of the plot devolves into "real" attempts made on the cast members' lives, as weights fall from the rafters, threatening notes are found (composed of letters cut from one of our programs, Holmes observes), and sounds of an off-stage struggle overcome the on-stage dramatics.
Act two resumes after it's been determined that these "pranks" were caused by a disgruntled crew member who has been fired. However, another note has been found, written by a dissatisfied member of the audience who complains about being confused.
The audience is then treated to a speed-through of the entire first act, with costumes and props flying, set pieces being flung, and wigs and beards not anchored to their intended locations. It's an old vaudeville trick that rarely fails to deliver.
The lively verbal shenanigans of Canny and Nicholson's script also deliver. "There are no flies on you Watson," Sir Henry says when Watson tries his hand at deductive reasoning. "Not this time of year," Watson answers.
When Holmes relates how an entire school was poisoned, Watson asks what kind of school. "Elementary, my dear Watson," Holmes replies.
But best of all are the sight gags. Airaldi as Cecille Stapleton, a young Peruvian woman with long braids and fluttering fans who's captivated Sir Henry. When Mootos, as Watson hungrily requests a bit of the dinner on Holmes' plate he's told, "It's glued on," as the plate is upended. And Mills, who pirouettes and poses with a picture frame to depict the entire gallery of Baskerville family portraits in the snooker room.
Nathan Leigh's sound design adds to the texture of the performance, ranging from the creepy howling and moaning of the ubiquitous hound to the slurping burps of the moor as it sucks down another victim.
The show concludes with a barrage of silly dog puns ("I'll get the Labra-door." "Are you ready for your bow, wow?") and the musical strains of "Ain't Nothin' But a Hound Dog" accompanying these bows.
And indeed, that the Sherlockian man in the lobby was a teacher and not part of the show.