At the close of a long, hot summer, it is refreshing to escape into a cool theater and savor Sierra Repertory Theatre’s clever, imaginative and funny production, “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” set in the misty moors of England. SRT co-founder Dennis Jones has returned to direct and design this production. He has created an atmospheric set enveloped in fog, with dogs baying and ominous howling winds. Modular sets representing trains, railroad stations and a gloomy mansion with moving walls add to the fun.
In this play, Tony Award-winning playwright Ken Ludwig has fashioned a humorous, affectionate take on an old classic. In the original story by Arthur Conan Doyle, first serialized in 1901, and later turned into a novel, a legendary curse hangs over the Baskerville family. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are drawn into the case when Charles Baskerville is found dead and his heir, Henry, is thought to be in danger. The play closely adheres to the well-crafted plot, but there the similarities end. Ludwig has exaggerated the foibles of the characters to comic effect and has provided them with various accents, eccentric mannerisms and ample pratfalls. The result is the sort of madcap theater for which Ludwig is known.
Jerry Lloyd is thoroughly convincing as Sherlock Holmes. He portrays Holmes as pompous and playful in just the right degrees. As we would expect, he revels in lauding his superior analytical skills over his loyal sidekick, Dr. Watson. Daniel Harray, who is adroit in physical comedy, is wonderful as the amiable and reliable Dr. Watson, who is always eager to be in on the action.
Much of the dynamism of the production results from the performances of the three fearless actors who play over three dozen different roles between them, and do it with considerable panache.
Marc Geller skillfully plays multiple characters, including Dr. Mortimer, who enlists Holmes’ help in the case, Barrymore, the sinister caretaker at the Baskerville estate, and Stapleton, a local naturalist. Geller portrays Stapleton as a somewhat slippery character whose interest in butterflies contradicts his barely hidden hostility. It is in this role that Geller is at his funniest.
Toby Tropper adeptly plays the unfortunate Charles Baskerville, as well as his rather naive heir, Henry, recently arrived from Texas. Tropper plays several other supporting characters and shifts between these roles with ease.
Particularly impressive is Mia Mekjian in no fewer than 13 roles, each of them distinctive. Among her many roles include a fresh take on Mrs. Hudson, Holmes’ housekeeper, a strict German maid, a damsel in distress, and Mrs. Barrymore, the equally sinister wife of the Baskerville estate’s caretaker. Highlighting her performances is a nuanced characterization of Mrs. Stapleton, the mysterious sister of the naturalist.
As clues are unearthed and secrets revealed, the five characters dash about the stage changing into a dizzying array of costumes and personas. There is no need to be familiar with the background material to enjoy the fun. The many costume changes reflect the creativity of costume designer Anna Grigo, who perfectly captures the detailed Edwardian dresses and tweedy attire of the period. The eerie sounds which emanate from the moors, enhancing the mood, are created by sound designer Ty Smith. Also adding to the aura is the changeable lighting by Christopher Van Tuyl.
SRT’s production of “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” is a brisk, well-directed comic entertainment. The talented actors work wonderfully in ensemble to give the production its energy and humor. Judging by the laughter on opening night, the near capacity audience was clearly having a good time. The play runs through Sunday, Sept. 30, at the Fallon House Theater in Columbia State Historic Park. For tickets or more information, visit sierrarep.org or call (209) 532-3120.