We saw ads for this show some time last year during a Princeton street festival. The folks at the McCarter booth really talked up the show and said our kids would love it. In recent days the play has been getting rave reviews. Needless to say we were pretty excited to go.
Well, the play was awesome. I’m not sure that the kids loved it. Clark said he liked parts of it but found the mystery a bit hard to follow. And Tabby was kind of scared by the dark scenes and loud noises. But everyone seemed to have a good time–even if it did end at 10PM.
And the play it self was really fantastic. Going in we knew literally nothing about the play except that it had something to do with Sherlock Holmes. I assumed it was the Hound of the Baskervilles story but I wasn’t sure if there was a twist on it at all.
And I certainly didn’t know anything about the way the play was structured. In the brief write up in the booklet it seemed like the story might have a meta- component. And it did, but not in the way I expected. For the meta component was that they really played up the constraints of the theater and wound up making jokes about the stage and how actors often play multiple roles. For example, they said things like “that rabbit” and then a stuffed and mounted rabbit would wheel across the stage. Or that he needed his hat and a trap door would open and a hat would be thrown to him. And the hilarious way the flowers arrived was outstanding–I’m still not exactly sure how they did it.
But the really amazing thing about the show was that there were only 5 actors in the play. There was Lucas Hall as Dr. Watson (who was in nearly every scene), there was Gregory Wooddell as Sherlock Holmes (who was in many but not all scenes). And then there were Actor One, Actor Two and Actress One (Stanley Bahorek, Michael Glenn and Jane Pfitsch). Each of these three actors played countless roles (really I couldn’t even keep track, although the trailer below says 43 roles among the three). There were some main characters, Stapleton, Sir Henry and Miss Beryl, but there were also Holmes’ irregulars, a nurse, some servants, a hotel clerk, a doctor and a maid. And they all had costume changes (and different accents!).
And what was especially fun about this was that they really played up that the actors were playing the different characters with them running off stage to come out in different costumes–wiping off lipstick and dramatically changing clothes–sometimes on stage. I hadn’t realized that there were only five people when the show started, so I didn’t quite get why everyone was laughing so much at some of the characters when they came on stage, but once I was in on the joke, it was hilarious and amazing to watch.
The story itself was somewhat convoluted, although that may have been due to the red herrings (or the fact that I had to keep whispering to the kids about what was happening). But the basic premise is the same as the “Hound” story. A man is killed, apparently by a hell hound. His heir, Henry, is meant to inherit everything. In the original story Henry is from Canada, but in the play he is from Texas (with a broad hilarious accent). Henry gets a note that he should leave because his life is in danger.
The letter is from Ms Stapleton (and their backstory is eventually given, too). Her brother is a local butterfly collector (that was done hilariously). Henry falls for her quickly (as you do in plays), but there is a problem (as there always is in a play).
There is of course much concern about going down to the moors (where Baskerville was killed). Especially when the servants of the house start talking about a strange man walking around down there. (The Mrs has an outrageously over the top German accent–so naturally the man she talks about is named Wictor (Victor) whose name is Selden in the original). She also shows off lovely wiews of the wista.
There’s a dramatic and funny intermission break and then the final 45 minutes are just awesome–fast paced and very funny with character changes and further explication of the convoluted story. And there are such wonderful uses of the stage–trap doors, props lighting and sound effects. (There was also a funny moment where one of the props broke and the actor handled it perfectly). The final revelation at the end of the play was an odd twist that really drew your attention to the fact that it was a play.
The one big surprise is that the story isn’t really about Holmes’ skill for solving things–indeed most of the investigation is done by Watson. But Holmes is very funny in the play–giddy and almost silly in parts.
I would absolutely see this play again. It was really funny and so very well done that I imagine a second viewing would only highlight the great transitions the characters make.
The play was written by Ken Ludwig and directed by Amanda Dehnert. Watch the trailer below: