Raleigh Little Theatre’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, directed by Jeremy Skidmore, is entertaining on multiple levels. For starters, it is always nice to see old friends, and it is with surprise and delight that we discover in the first scene that the starring roles are to be played by women! Meeting up with Mary Roland as Sherlock Holmes and Laurel Ullman as Dr. Watson on a local stage is a treat not to be missed. In addition, Ken Ludwig’s choice to lace the murder whodunit mystery with madcap comedy leads to a double-dose of entertainment.
Ken Ludwig’s play re-tells, in a comic vein, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1902 story, The Hound of the Baskervilles. Holmes and Watson are approached to solve the mystery of the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, whose body had been discovered on the grounds of his estate. A huge demon dog seems to have been involved in his death, and locals speak of a curse. Indeed, we learn that there were “indications that the man was literally crazed with fear.” Holmes’ interest is immediately piqued — he says, “There is a feverish quality to this unlikely tale that appeals to me.” At that point, “the [play] is afoot.”
The duo delves into a labyrinth of clues, red herrings, and dead-ends. They meet a plethora of interesting characters and travel to a number of in-and-out-of-the-way locations, including the Baskerville manor, the gloominess of which one character encapsulates, saying, “[It] reminds me of my mother’s funeral — without the liquor.” Even as we find ourselves laughing, there is sense of urgency in this tale because the case must be solved before the “curse” claims the life of the current heir to the Baskerville fortune — the goofy Henry Baskerville, who has just arrived from Texas.
Ken Ludwig’s script, along with the pace of Jeremy Skidmore’s direction, manages to keep the audience’s mind engaged with the mystery and its winding trail-of-clues while, at the same time, serving up a constant bombardment of silliness on-the-side.
Similar to Patrick Barlow’s stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 film The 39 Steps — which RLT staged in October 2012 — Ludwig’s script calls for two actors to play the central characters and three additional actors to play about 40 other characters. The possibilities for zany humor are endless, and this production of this script plays them to the hilt.
We applaud the decision to cast women in the roles of Holmes and Watson. It was great fun to see and hear Mary Rowland behave and speak exactly as we imagine Sherlock Holmes would. Ditto for Laurel Ullman as Dr. Watson. Fans of these two will not be disappointed.
Rowland and Ullman play off each other expertly, as well as interacting appropriately with the various personalities played by the supporting trio — Tony Hefner (“Actor One”), Gus Allen (“Actor Two”), and Kirsten Ehlert (“Actress One”).
Hefner, Allen, and Ehlert don a seemingly endless variety of costumes, hats, wigs, beards, mustaches, and accents as they create this stream of characters. Costume changes are frequently accomplished in a matter of seconds and occasionally “performed” onstage as part of the humor. All three actors have mastered the art of comic timing (and how to “mis-time” a comic bit).
The one-two punch of lighting designer Liz Grimes Droessler and scenic designer Denis R. Berfield combines to create scene after scene. Projections on a pair of upstage-center screens (on two separate levels) masterfully meld with various areas onstage along with the shifts in lighting as we move from 221B Baker Street to the attic of the Baskerville Manor; to “A Scary Place on the Moor;” to “A Scarier Place on the Moor;” to “An Even Scarier Place on the Moor”. A flown-in gate is a nice touch, as is the unexpected use of a trap-door.
The work of sound designer Brennan Reilly augments the various moods created onstage — sometimes overtly, sometimes just-barely-noticeably, and occasionally in a screwball fashion.
Costume designer Jenny Mitchell gets high marks in the Department of Authenticity and Quick-Change-Artistry for the costumes of Tony Hefner, Gus Allen, and Kirsten Ehlert.
The Department of Picky-Picky was especially impressed with the use of a full-sized newspaper (rather than the nowadays narrower version) and with the clever creation of the attic setting.
This is slapstick fun for the whole family.
SECOND OPINION: April 14th Raleigh, NC CVNC review by Roy C. Dicks: https://cvnc.org/article.cfm?articleId=9379; and April 12th Raleigh, NC News & Observer preview by Glenn McDonald: https://www.newsobserver.com/entertainment/article228791719.html.
Raleigh Little Theatre presents Ken Ludwig’s BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY at 3 p.m. April 14; 8 p.m. April 19, 20, and 25-27, and 3 p.m. April 28 in RLT‘s Cantey V. Sutton Theatre, 301 Pogue St., Raleigh, North Carolina 27607.
TICKETS: $28 ($24 students and seniors 62+), except all seats $15 on Sunday, April 14th.
BOX OFFICE: 919-821-3111 or https://raleighlittletheatre.secure.force.com/ticket/#details_a0S0V00000zrmbvUAA.
SHOW: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows/ken-ludwigs-baskerville-a-sherlock-holmes-mystery/ and https://www.facebook.com/events/589031514897310/.
RLT‘S 2018-19 SEASON: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/shows-and-events/memberships/.
PRESENTER: https://raleighlittletheatre.org/, https://www.facebook.com/RaleighLittleTheatre, https://twitter.com/RLT1936, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Raleigh_Little_Theatre, and http://www.youtube.com/user/raleighlittletheatre.
NOTE 1: All shows are wheelchair accessible, and assistive-listening devices are available for all shows. RLT has also installed a hearing loop in the Cantey V. Sutton Theatre.
NOTE 2: Arts Access, Inc. of Raleigh will audio-describe the show’s 3 p.m. Sunday, April 21st, performance.
Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery (2015 Washington, DC comedy): http://www.kenludwig.com/baskerville/baskerville.php (KenLudwig.com), https://www.samuelfrench.com/p/57235/ken-ludwigs-baskerville-a-sherlock-holmes-mystery/ (Samuel French Inc.), and https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Baskerville:_A_Sherlock_Holmes_Mystery (Wikipedia).
Study Guide: https://issuu.com/syracusestage/docs/baskerville_study_guide (Syracuse Stage).
Ken Ludwig (playwright and screenwriter): http://www.kenludwig.com/ (official website), https://www.ibdb.com/broadway-cast-staff/ken-ludwig-7069 (Internet Broadway Database), http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0525024/ (Internet Movie Database), and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ken_Ludwig (Wikipedia).
Jeremy Skidmore (Fuquay-Varina, NC director and artistic director at Rhinoleap Productions in Asheboro, NC): https://www.facebook.com/jeremy.skidmore.96 (Wikipedia).
Pamela Vesper has been a Raleigh resident for more than 20 years. A local attorney for licensed professionals, when she’s not in court, Pam can be found watching or participating in local theater productions or enjoying the vibrant Raleigh music and craft beer scene. She also loves indie and foreign films and was an anchor on the local cable show, Movie Minutes. Pam has an opinion on just about everything; just ask her. Kurt Benrud is a graduate of Cary High School and N.C. State University, and he has taught English at both. He first became involved in local theater in 1980. He has served on the board of directors for both the Cary Players and the Cary Playwrights’ Forum. He is also a volunteer reader with Triangle Radio Reading Service. Click here to read their reviews for Triangle Review and Triangle Arts and Entertainment.