Falling-down laughs at ‘Baskerville’

From left: Liz Wisan (Holmes), Dave Quay (Watson) and Brian Owen in Dorset Theatre Festival’s “Baskerville.” PHOTO BY GERRY GOODSTEIN

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” took an unexpected twist when Ms. Sherlock Holmes solved Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous mystery Friday. It was a production by the Dorset Theatre Festival, which delivered Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” as an outrageous slapstick comedy. Ludwig doesn’t call for a female Holmes in his script, but the Dorset production had the playwright’s blessing. He employs a style similar to that of the 2005 Patrick Barlow parody of “The 39 Steps,” with actors playing multiple roles. Quick set and costume changes result in rapidpaced, zany comedy. Despite the zaniness, the plot remains faithful to the 1902 novella. Holmes and Dr. Watson are invited to England’s eerie moors to investigate the curse of the Baskerville family and its heir’s certain death by a giant hound. In the process, the famed duo must contend with multiple mysteries in order to discover the evil perpetrator. Of course, they prevail — with a lot of mysterious adventures along the way. The farce sticks close to the original, save for making the intended victim, Sir Henry, a Texan, his accent adding obvious humor (the original is Canadian). And Dorset’s casting of Sherlock as a woman added all sorts of intended and unintended laughs. Director Jen Winemen, without diminishing Ludwig’s wit, chose to heighten the physical comedy. Some will love, while others will hate, the extravagant physicality. Slapstick moments were drawn out as long as the laughs lasted, and shtick was repeated over and over. This was not particularly fast-paced comedy. In fact, with intermission, the show lasted over two hours, but much of the audience was in stitches throughout. The production benefited from a particularly able cast. Liz Wisan was the backbone of the show as Holmes and added a unique sly humor. She was complemented by Dave Quay’s earnest Watson. Raji Ahsan was delightfully over-the-top as the Texan Sir Henry. The zany physical comedy came mostly from Brian Owen and Caitlin Clouthier, who are naturally funny. They played myriad characters, as did the others — save for Wisan as Holmes — skillfully and hilariously. The physical production was up to Dorset’s usual high standards. Alexander Woodward’s imaginative comprehensive setting was constantly transformed by Michael Gianitti’s dramatic lighting and Jane Shaw’s creative sound design. The mystery-comedy atmosphere was completed by Aaron Mastin’s sometimes period, sometimes comic costumes. Dorset Theatre Festival’s “Baskerville” proved a sometimes witty, mostly silly physical comedy — with a touch of the thriller. DORSET THEATRE FESTIVAL Dorset Theatre Festival presents “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” the Ken Ludwig farce, July 13-29, at the Dorset Playhouse, 104 Cheney Road in Dorset. Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, plus 2 p.m. matinees Wednesdays. Tickets are $18-$52; call 867-2223, ext. 2, or go online to dorsettheatrefestival.org.

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