Sunday, May 22, 2016

Theater Review: Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery

Tell Me a Story

I love a good story, and when it comes to good stories, the classics are still among the best.  There's a reason Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's stories of Sherlock Holmes are still popular (and still being retold in new books, TV series, and films) over 130 years after the famous fictional detective made his first literary appearance.

Holmes debuted in 1886.  Doyle was paid what, today, would amount to just over $3600 for exclusive rights to the first Holmes story, A Study in Scarlet.  He wrote a total of 60 Holmes stories, even going so far as to resurrect the Holmes character after killing him off in The Final Problem, due to reader backlash.  That's pretty powerful, when you think about it: when you write such an iconic character, he no longer belongs to you, but to the readers.  Those readers were adamant that Doyle bring their fictional hero back.

Fans of mystery fiction should thank their lucky stars that Doyle listened, because he went on to pen The Hound of the Baskervilles, arguably his most popular and well-known Holmes story.  In it, Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick and chronicler John Watson investigate a murderous spectral hound who has terrorized the Baskerville family for generations.

A Fresh Take

The story of The Hound of the Baskervilles has been told and retold many times since its first appearance in 1901.  You might think there is no longer a fresh way to tell it.  That's probably because you haven't had the pleasure of seeing Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, a play written by Ken Ludwig and directed for Syracuse Stage by Peter Amster.

Baskerville takes the classic story and injects it with a heavy dose of comedy.  The result is a delightful and engaging dash through Victorian-era Dartmoor, England, complete with eerie ambience and laughs galore.  You don't need to be familiar with the original story to get the humor; when they crack a joke, you're going to get it.  Ludwig has made sure of that.  But that's not even the best part.

The gem of this play is that there are five actors playing a few dozen roles.  Matthew Greer (Sherlock Holmes) and Liam Craig (John Watson) play the famous crime-solving duo, while just three other actors (Gil Brady, Jonathan Spivey, and Barbra Wengerd) quite literally don multiple hats to fill in the almost forty remaining roles.  It is hilarious fun to watch, and the actors play up to that intrinsic hilarity with brilliance.  I asked my husband for tickets to this show for Christmas, and it was undeniably worth the wait.  I can't remember the last time I laughed so much.

Greer was amazing, and he lit up the stage with a wonderful and believable presence as Holmes.  Anyone who played Watson would have to be at least as brilliant, especially since Watson carries the majority of the story.  Craig was perfect.  I loved him on sight.  He not only looked the part, he played it to the hilt, every bit the staid foil to the slightly-manic Holmes.  Fans of Doyle's stories will appreciate how closely writer Ken Ludwig followed the original tale.  Theater-goers looking for something new will love the pings of tongue-in-cheek humor liberally sprinkled throughout the performance.

Baskerville is playing now through May 29th at Syracuse Stage.  Tickets range from $18-$50, depending on time and day of performance.

REVIEW: 4.5 of 5 stars

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