When presented with innovative or interesting artistic works we haven’t seen before, we’re often left to describe them based on the foundational works which serve as clear inspiration. A painting might have notes of Jackson Pollock or Pablo Picasso, for instance. The jambalaya you make at home might take cues from grandma’s recipe book. Lots of music acts wear the “They sound like The Beatles” badge as a blessing and curse. You can go on to infinity with this exploration of the derivatives.
I’m thinking of this as we’re presented with the newest offering at TheatreSquared, “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” The show began Wednesday (April 25) at Nadine Baum Studios in Fayetteville and continues through May 27. It is the final show in the group’s 2017-2018 season.
What: TheatreSquared’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
When: Wednesday – Sunday through May 27
Where: Nadine Baum Studios, Fayetteville
Cost: $25-$44; a limited number of $10 are available for those under 30 years old
Tickets: 479-443-5600 or theatre2.org
This stage adaptation of the classic story by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle comes to us courtesy of British theater company Peepolykus, who adapted the work as a three-man stage show in 2007. The company’s style is described as a mishmash of The Marx Brothers, Buster Keaton and Monty Python. For this particular story, I was reminded of the seminal absurdist show “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)” which has a similar playful love affair with the source material and also relies on three actors making quick character changes. “Hound,” however, sticks to the source material a little more faithfully. Let’s recap the basic premise, for those of you unfamiliar with this particular Sherlock Holmes mystery.
Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Dr. Watson are visited by a strange guest who begs them investigate the death of Sir Charles Baskerville. He died of a heart attack, but that heart attack may have come courtesy of a pursuit by an elusive, demonic hound. The last remaining heir to the Baskerville estate, a Canadian man named Sir Henry, has recently come to England and is intent on claiming the family home. Holmes and Watson do their best to protect him while also solving the case of his uncle Charles’ death.
Like all Sherlock Holmes mysteries, little is what it seems, and everyone is a suspect. The three actors deftly maneuver between the roles, throwing on costumes and voices and smashing through the fourth wall when it serves their purposes.
For instance, Holmes, who doesn’t really have a British accent, asks Sir Henry why he doesn’t have a Canadian accent like he expected.
“I can’t do one,” exclaims Steve Pacek, the actor who plays Sir Henry. And the show goes on.
The three actors conjure another work you’ll recognize if you’re a frequent TheatreSquared patron. Patrick Halley (who played Smee), Steve Pacek (who played Peter Pan) and Bruce Warren (who played Mrs. Bumbrake) all appeared in T2’s production of “Peter and the Starcatcher” in late 2015 and early 2016. That production was directed by Mark Shanahan – who also directs “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” If you enjoyed “Peter and the Starcatcher,” you’ll like this one, too. Like “Peter,” the current production is a family-friendly affair if you can allow for a pair of curse words.
The trio of actors certainly have a rapport, and they’ve further honed it during a previous run of this show. “The Hound of the Baskervilles” was produced in a partnership with the Virginia Stage Company of Norfolk, Virginia. The current trio performed together there in February and March before the production transferred to Fayetteville.
The resulting product here is both slickly done and loose. It also makes specific references to Fayetteville in a localized version of the script, but it also provided the actors a vehicle to improvise as necessary. I feel bad for the two women who showed up late and were subsequently ridiculed by the actors as they attempted to find their seats. Of course, I don’t feel too bad – if you don’t want to be playfully scorned by this cast, don’t show up late.
The show is frequently amusing and at times riotously funny. A 5-minute scene at the onset of the second act is five minutes of uproarious bliss. It certainly presented a challenge for the actors, who worked at a frantic pace. I watched the matinee show, and I’m willing to bet Warren had to put on a wool coat that was still soaked with his sweat when he got back into costume for the evening performance.
Between the frequent costume changes and the back and forth relationship between the script, the source material and the fourth wall, we’re not left with a lot of time to react or think. But I think you’ll recognize this show in many of the silly British comedies you know and love.