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by | Apr 12, 2024 | Review | 0 comments

Before we get into this, let me say off the top that, to accommodate my schedule, the company allowed me to attend Baskerville’s first and only preview performance. I’m very grateful for that. Things may tighten up as the run progresses.

Okay, here we go.

What the hell is a director supposed to do with Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery? I don’t know. And I don’t think Barbara Tomasic, who directed this production for the Gateway Theatre, has a clear idea either.

The script is playwright Ken Ludwig’s adaptation of Arthur Conan Doyle’s crime novel about a supernatural beast that is, apparently, ripping the throats out of terrified noblemen on the English moors, so you might hope that Baskerville would be scary and suspenseful, but, in this production at least, it’s not. For one thing, the beastly climax is virtually impossible to stage. And, stylistically, Ludwig’s telling leans heavily into farce: by turning the characters into cartoons, it undermines the horror. (Why should we invest in the story if there’s nothing real at stake?)

So what’s left — mostly — is the potential for an exercise in farcical style. On this level, Tomasic’s production succeeds in fits and starts. Two actors play the central characters — Genevieve Fleming is Sherlock Holmes and Gerry Mackay Dr. Watson. Another three— Andrew Cownden, Mack Gordon, and Melissa Oei — play the remaining 37 or so parts. So a lot of the fun is — or should be — about the breathless zaniness of watching these three trying to keep up with the impossible task they’ve been handed: the snap differentiations of character, the costume changes!

In the story, Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead on his Dartmoor estate. His friend, Dr. James Mortimer, enlists the help of Sherlock Holmes and his sidekick Watson to solve the murder and protect Charles’s nephew and heir, Sir Henry Baskerville, who has recently arrived from Texas. (In Doyle’s original, Henry is from Canada, but Ludwig has decided Texans are funnier.) As Holmes and Watson pursue the case, we meet cab drivers, hoteliers, street urchins, and, in Dartmoor, housekeepers, neighbours, and various other suspects.

Of the three multiply-cast actors, Oei has the most fun. In Dartmoor, she gives the housekeeper, Mrs. Barrymore, an outrageous accent and ghoulish demeanour that reminded me of Cloris Leachman’s housekeeper in Mel Brooks’s Young Frankenstein. I mean this as a high compliment. And, in Act 2, when things get rolling a bit more, it’s Oei who lets us see most clearly the wild-eyed desperation of an actor realizing she’s going to have to make a quick change in the next five seconds.

But, partly because Tomasic hasn’t completely cracked the script’s stylistic code, Oei has more trouble early on. At the top of Act 1, her broad portrayal of Holmes’s housekeeper Mrs. Hudson is out of proportion to the other performances. And the script asks something extremely weird of her. In enacting the origin of the legend of the hound of the Baskervilles, she’s called upon to portray a young woman who was abducted — clearly to be raped — by Henry’s ancestor Hugo Baskerville. The story is about a serious crime, but Oei has little choice but to play it for fluttering, damsel-in-distress comedy. It’s not her fault, but it’s still unsettling.

Gordon is amiably charming as Henry, the heir, but generally more subdued, as is Cownden.

Cross-cast in terms of gender, Fleming makes an elegant, intellectually active Holmes. In the more prominent role, Mackay delivers a grounded performance as Watson. But the odd interface between these more naturalistic characters and the more farcical ones is never resolved.

Because I wasn’t invested in the story and the production is stylistically inconsistent, Baskerville was a long night for me.

KEN LUDWIG’S BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY by Ken Ludwig. Directed by Barbara Tomasic. On Thursday, April 11. A Gateway Theatre production at the Gateway Theatre until April 20. Tickets and information

PHOTO CREDIT: Photo of Genevieve Fleming, Gerry Mackay, and Melissa Oei by David Cooper


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