In the gut-busting production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” now doubling over audiences at Hudson Stage in Armonk (through May 13), there are some 20 characters on stage–but only three actors.
How does that work? Like clockwork! Well, more like a cuckoo clock with sleight of hands that move at lightning speed–forward, backward and wayward.
This raucous confection not only makes bloody good fun of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth and his sidekick Dr. Watson; the farcical play makes fun of its own clever contrivances. It even mocks its actors, who occasionally step out of character as themselves to address the audience. It’s difficult at times to discern who is having more fun: The people on stage or the people in the audience. No matter. Fun it is, from beginning to end, and back again.
Let’s Re-Run Act I
As Act II begins, the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes and a host of other characters (quick-change whirling dervish Denis Lambert) insists to his incredulous castmates that they must re-run the first Act… in high-speed.
Why? Because, complains the indignant Lambert, a supposed member of the audience during intermission tweeted that the actor slowed down the hijinks in Act I with his sluggish performance. To redeem himself, Lambert exhorts his sidekicks to race headlong through the highlights of Act I. And they oblige him.
Lambert’s partners in crime-solving are Joe Delafield (Sir Charles Baskerville and others) and Matt Ban (Dr. Watson and others). They form a tight, nimble comedy troupe that performs with vaudevillian brio, donning and doffing headwear and outerwear, plus smoothly transporting props on and off stage to create the illusion of a much fuller cast of characters and settings. The fancy feet work they do is no easy feat. The transformative costumes are a real stitch, the seamless handiwork of Jeni Schaefer and Charlotte Palmer-Lane. The show is expertly directed by Mark Shanahan and smartly choreographed by Stephanie Card.
Brilliant Deduction, Watson!
“What can you deduce about that knocking?” asks Holmes of Watson, who replies, with unerring instinct, “It’s coming from the door.” That’s a small taste of the silly repartee and gags that come fast and furious.
If all this sounds veddy Monty Pythonesque, there’s good reason. The co-writers of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”—Steven Canny and John Nicholson, billed as “adaptors” to pay due homage to their muse, Sir Arthur—have extensive credentials as comedy writers for England’s BBC TV network.
The case these three crackpots are trying to crack is simply stated: Members of the wealthy Baskerville clan are being hounded to death by a rabid Rover. Holmes and Watson must wend their way through the moors and the mire and some slippery, sordid sorts to solve the mystery. And the game’s afoot.
Before the play began, a smile came over my face at the sight of the elaborately authentic set, another hallmark of Hudson Stage’s consistently tony style of theater, a credit to producers Denise Bessette, Dan Foster and Olivia Sklar. This time, the set is a gorgeously rendered recreation of an early 20th-century proscenium arch theater, replete with carved wood columns and burgundy red curtains flanking the stage (scenery by David Arsenault.)
“This is throwback theater!” I thought. So, if you like theater, and love to laugh, go to North Castle Library’s elegant Whippoorwill Theater in Armonk, throw yourself back in the comfy seats, prepare to act like a hound, and howl.
For ticket information, visit HudsonStage.com or call 914-271-2811. For the full-length version of this review, visit BruceTheBlog.com.