Sherlock Holmes is back and Actors Co-op’s got him, though Tim Kelly’s stage(y) adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound Of The Baskervilles proves an only okay showcase for both its cast and its master sleuth protagonist.
Kelly’s play opens with murder of Sir Charles Baskerville, a wealthy but cursed British knight who would appear to have met his maker at the hands (or should that be at the fangs?) of the titular hound. (Like most of the action in Kelly’s version of Conan Doyle’s classic tale, the killing takes place offstage.)
Since neither Hercule Poirot nor Miss Marple is apparently available to investigate, sleuthing duties fall to Sherlock (Curt Bonnem) and his trusty sidekick Dr. Henry Watson (Charles Constant), who have a household full of suspects to sort through, that is assuming it was man or woman and not beast who committed the crime.
These include tweedy Lady Agatha Mortimer, MD (Christine Krebsbach), perky Baskerville maid Perkins (Francesca Fromang), sinister housekeeper Mrs. Barrymore (Deborah Marlowe) and her decrepit husband Mr. Barrymore (Townsend Coleman), youthful Baskerville fortune heir Sir Henry (Dennis Baker), the effervescent Kathy Stapleton (Ivy Beech), her handsome but unstable brother Jack (Gregory James), and regal beauty Laura Lyons (Lauren Thompson).
An overabundance of talk makes Hound’s first act a bit of a snooze, and even when things perk up in Act Two, too much of what takes place only gets discussed after the fact, the result of Kelly’s opting to stage his play entirely in the Baskerville sitting room. (The single-set format makes sense logistically, but dramatically less so, perhaps one reason that Conan Doyle’s action-packed mystery has worked well in film after film but proves less successful on stage.)
Director Moosie Drier (whose Lend Me A Tenor proved such a pitch-perfect delight at the Co-op last year) and his cast do perk things up from time to time, but more comedic zip is needed, particularly given the recent, very unstodgy reinventions of Sherlock by Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch.
Still, there is some quite good acting taking place on the Crossley Theatre stage, and Hounds looks and sounds absolutely fabulous thanks to a Grade-A production design team.
Scenic designer Nicholas Acciani places us smack dab in the middle of the of the elegant, meticulously appointed Baskerville sitting room (properties design kudos go to Greg and Geoff Samuels), which Mark Svastics has lit to atmospheric perfection (with plenty of moor mist to shine light through whenever the French doors are opened).
Sean Gabel’s sound design ups the mystery as well, and each and every one of Wendell C. Carmichael’s turn-of-the-20th-century costumes is a period gem. (Curiously Kelly’s stage 1973 stage adaptation is intended to be set in the present time, for no apparent reason but to make it easier for theater companies to do the play without more costly period wear, since there’s nothing in his script to suggest 1973, at least as played here.)
Krys Fehervari once again scores high marks for her hair and makeup design. E.K. Dagerfield is dialect coach, and the work of most of the cast is quite “satisfact’ry,” as Sherlock would say.
James Ledesma is stage manager. Lydia Soto is assistant stage manager. Rita Cannon is assistant lighting designer. Hound Of The Baskervilles is produced by Gina D’Acciaro.
I’m guessing that Actors Co-op’s decision to program Sherlock Holmes was a way of pleasing the Christian-based theater company’s more conservative subscribers in a season that also includes Tennessee Williams’ more adult-themed Summer And Smoke.
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle aficionados will likely take to Hound Of The Baskervilles more enthusiastically than this reviewer. Still, the killer had me fooled, and that is precisely what you want in a whodunit.
Actors Co-op, 1760 N. Gower St., Hollywood.
October 17, 2015
Photos: Lindsay Schnebly