THEATER REVIEW: ‘Baskerville’ at the Cleveland Play House by Laura Kennelly

Cleveland Play House Ken Ludwigs Baskerville Sherlock Holmes

Sun 2/12

Winter. Politics. Flu. Blah. Looking for a break? Then consider kicking back and enjoying the delicious silliness of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at the Cleveland Play House’s Allen Theatre.

Ludwig’s a familiar name at Cleveland-area theatres (Lend Me a Tenor at the Beck and A Comedy of Tenors and The Game’s Afoot at CPH). He’s known for his light touch and skill at poking fun at pompous figures (and everyone else). Baskerville, based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, abandons the original novel’s dark vibes for quirky, outrageous farce (well, what else could we expect at the hands of Ludwig?).

Director Brendon Fox created a perfect atmosphere for this play, celebrating its absurdity with fast, split-second pacing, plus quick costume and character changes. Fox seemingly recognized that with the play’s slim plot, the audience needed continuous surprises. They were provided in abundance.

Action begins when the Detective Holmes (portrayed as appropriately self-assured by Rafael Untalan) is hired to protect Sir Henry, the heir to the British Baskerville estate. Holmes delegates Watson (the engaging Jacob James) to assist; together they travel to the foggy, dark moors of Western England. As the story progresses, they interact with over three dozen other characters in various, often amusingly crafted disguises (basic body type was the only way I could tell one actor from the other).

Identified only as Actor One (skilled physical comic Brian Owen) and Actor Two (Evan Alexander Smith, master of heroic and outrageously absurd characters), and Actress One (Nisi Sturgis, who evidently can play anyone well at any time, because she did) completed the cast of five.

Sight gags abound. A favorite scene focused on just how windy the West England moorlands can be. We see Watson and Sir Henry staggering against the force of strong winds. Like much of the rest of the play, the scene demanded impressive physical flexibility and some gymnastics as characters walked, bodies bent nearly parallel to the ground. Sir Henry, a Canadian in the original novel, is now a Texan. Never miss an easy target, right? (As a Texan, I resemble that remark.) Still, as portrayed by Smith, he’s a likeable goofus.

A great deal of fun was created with accents — hotel clerks and street urchins all delighted in hamming it up with different lingos. Best perhaps was Sturgis as a European housekeeper, who reminded me of my own difficulties remembering that “v” in German is pronounced like “w” in English. Thus it took the characters a minute to transpose and translate the housekeeper’s statements, especially if they were about visitors or wine.

There was, of course, classical music (a Ludwig trademark) to convey emotional settings (spooky and/or comic). So we were treated to infusions of Mahler or opera (quick cuts from Tosca and Falstaff).

During the final bows, the team of dressers (Candace Brown, Gracie Frazier, Janel Moore, Christina Spencer) came onstage for much deserved applause. Costume designer Lex Liang should also take a bow for inventive creation, especially relating to a fate for the villain that seems original, fitting, and funny.

BOTTOM LINE: A completely absurd treatment to counter winter doldrums.

For more information or tickets go to or call 216-241-6000.

[Written by Laura Kennelly]

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