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A CurtainUp New Jersey Review
The Hound of the Baskervilles

I came to you, Mr Holmes, because I am confronted with a serious and extraordinary problem. Recognizing, as I do, that you are the second highest expert in Europe— Mortimer In your opinion. — Holmes No, in Europe. — Mortimer

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Gary Marachek and Wynn Harmon
(Photo: SuzAnne Barabas)
It is easy to see why and how Mark Shanahan, the director of this spoof of Arthur Conan Doyle’s most famous novel, would feel an affinity for it as well as affection that comes through with each step deeper into the Moors. Having just helmed a terrific production of The 39 Steps at the George Street Playhouse in New Brunswick, Shanahan continues to demonstrate his flair for the zany with The Hound of the Baskervilles. That there are significant differences in both the style and approach that Shanahan has had to take with these plays have mostly to do with Baskerville’s more limited display of imagination and a rather stingy quotient of cleverness.

This doesn’t mean that it still isn’t more fun than it has a right to be. If the authors, Britishers Steven Canny and John Nicholson, have as I have been informed made revisions to the adaptation previously reviewed in 2011 at Shakespeare and Company in the Berkshires , I am still obliged to say that whatever their changes amounted to are presumably (as the illustrious detective Sherlock Holmes would say) “Elementary my dear Watson.”

Audiences should be prepared for a parodic romp that has the form and flavor of something being concocted and performed on the spot perhaps by a male trio of partially inebriated college students as a Saturday night Fraternity House diversion. Despite my reservations about the purposely amateurishly envisioned frame for the play — non-professional actors performing in a no-budget production in a small community theater — it will undoubtedly be enthusiastically received by the (as it was on the night I attended) by future audiences at the New Jersey Rep, as it was previously in London and the provinces.

Despite the fact that this version goes out of its way to make a muddle of the famed horrific mystery, it shouldn’t concern you whether you know the Gothic plot. The biggest problem with the play is its premise, that we see it as a spoof within a play that is itself spoofing amateurish acting. Too much time is lost and humor sacrificed by disabling the classic plot with technical glitches and with actors breaking the fourth wall.

This is a handicap that is almost turned into a happy time by Shanahan, who gets plenty of mileage out of the generally silly shenanigans. He is lucky to have three excellent and versatile actors who can carry off playing unendingly resourceful amateur thespians. Wynn Harmon plays Holmes with suavity and condescension but is at his most delightful en travestie as the wig-challenged Mrs. Barrymore, and the alluringly coquettish fan-fluttering Spanish Senora Cecile (pronounced “Thethile”) looking for the world like Charlie’s Aunt.

While all three actors are assigned multiple roles, I enjoyed the way Gary Marachek affixed an affectionate teddy bear quality to the nevertheless always dumbfounded observations of Dr. Watson. There are also plenty of opportunities for Rich Silverstein, who plays Sir Henry Baskerville as well as a slew of tragically destined Baskervilles, to match wits and wigs with the other two.

Although it isn’t a new gimmick, the play reaches its fullest comic potential in a frantic and frenetic replay of Act I and in a Turkish bathhouse. Kudos to set designer Jessica Parks for the clever and movable frames and flats that amusingly evoke (with Jill Nagle’s atmospheric lighting) Holmes’ Baker Street study and the Baskerville estate on the bog-filled and fog-bound Devon Moor to suggest that my reservations about the play are purely elementary.

The Hound of the Baskervilles
By Steven Canny and John Nicholson
Directed by Mark Shanahan

Cast: Wynn Harmon (Sherlock Holmes, et al), Gary Marachek (Dr. Watson, et al), Rich Silverstein (Sir Henry Baskerville et al)
Scenic Design & Properties: Jessica Parks
Lighting Design: Jill Nagle
Costume Design: Patricia E. Doherty Sound Design: Merek Royce Press
Running Time: 2 hours including intermission
New Jersey Repertory Company, 179 Broadway, Long Branch, N.J.
(732) 229 – 3166
Performances: Thursday and Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 3 PM and 8 PM, Sunday at 2 PM.
Tickets: $40.00
From: 04/19/12
Opened: 04/21/12
Ends: 05/27/12
Review by Simon Saltzman based on performance 05/05/12
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