Ken Ludwig is the playwright of the moment with two major productions of his work at Connecticut theatres. His smashing adaptation of the Agatha Christie classic, “Murder on the Orient Express”, wraps up its successful run at Hartford Stage this weekend along with his tongue-very-firmly-in-cheek take on Scotland Yard’s most famous detective, “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery”, finishing up Sunday at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven. The playwright is suddenly the theatre producer’s best friend.
With “Baskerville”, Ludwig seems to have taken a page out of the quick-change-artist repertoire from the famed Ridiculous Theatre Company led by Charles Ludlum and Everett Quinton. Indeed, most of the fun of this farce comes from the three good actors (Kelly Hutchinson, Christopher Livingston and Brian Owen) who play dozens of roles in a variety of costumes and accents while dancing merrily around Sherlock Holmes (a sturdy Alex Moggridge) and his faithful friend, Doctor Watson (Daniel Pearce). Purists may enjoy their Holmes done with a little less dithering hilarity, but the opening night audience I caught “Baskerville” with didn’t seem to mind one bit.
Created by British author Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1887, Holmes is known for his proficiency with observation, forensic science and logical reasoning that borders on the fantastic. We see some of that genius percolate in Moggridge’s solid performance, but fans of the detective may be surprised at how little stage time he is given in “Baskerville”. In Ludwig’s script it is, instead, Doctor Watson who does a majority of the heavy lifting with Holmes sidelined on the fringes for much of the play. My concern for an MIA Holmes may have contributed to me losing the thread of the main plot of “Baskerville” somewhere during act two. It could also have been my own inability to keep things straight with all the head-spinning character and costume changes taken on by the trio of actors.
It’s a play clearly held together by under-dressing and Velcro along with a crack backstage crew that gets its own well-deserved bow at curtain. Of the three actors, Brian Owen is a stunning standout given the most to do in what seems to be the very shortest period of time to make changes. I lost track of the accents and sexes he managed to deliver during the two-hour running time, but I’m sure he’s enjoying those intermissions! The examples of stage magic, which includes Tim Mackabee’s simple but ingenious set design (he finds a variety of uses for free-standing doorways), come so fast and furious that a type of tedium begins to set in by mid-point. What is mostly fun for a majority of the running time can also become exhausting for the viewer after a while and this may be where my mind started to wander.
Still, Brendon Fox’s endlessly clever direction, designer Lex Liang’s terrific period costumes and the hard-working cast deserve credit for what certainly seems like a sure-fire crowd-pleaser at Long Wharf.
“Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” continues at the Long Wharf Theatre through Sunday, March 25, 2018. For further information or ticket reservations call the theatre box office at 203.787.4284 or visit: www.longwharf.org.
Tom Holehan is one of the founders of the Connecticut Critics Circle, a frequent contributor to WPKN Radio’s “State of the Arts” program and Artistic Director of Stratford’s Square One Theatre Company. He welcomes comments at: email@example.com. His reviews and other theatre information can be found on the Connecticut Critics Circle website: www.ctcritics.org.