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Curious case: (l-r) Winkles, Croy and McCabe in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Hot Dog!

By James Yeara

The Hound of the Baskervilles

By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, loosely adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson

Directed by Tony Simotes, Shakespeare & Company, Elayne P. Bernstein Theatre, through Nov. 8

A proper farce plays to the sound of slamming doors. Shakespeare & Company’s current fall production of The Hound of the Baskervilles has no slamming doors. However, it is crammed full of the sounds of sliding doors, slamming curtains, sliding actors, dropped and bouncing bodies, howling winds, growling dogs and helpful authorial voiceover narration. And this comical cacophony serves as soundtrack to a parade of ridiculous sights: wigs askew, helpful signposts, a molted stuffed eagle, a sheep in a bag, assorted abused costumes, magnifying glasses, pipes, pistols, picture frames, puppy prints, and a partridge in a pear tree. So while not a proper farce, Shakespeare & Company’s The Hound of the Baskervilles is a silly good time full of manic glee and a proper disregard for the propriety of pretentious literature. As Holmes famously says (famously quoting Shakespeare’s Henry V), “the game’s afoot.”

Director Tony Simotes keeps the game playfully in step—from the opening blackout request to the audience that those with a “total inability to tell fact from fiction please leave the auditorium” to the closing puns “Let’s put a muzzle on that; thank God this case is Rover.”

Simote’s three-person cast is peerless: Josh Aaron McCabe (as Sherlock Holmes, villain Jack Stapleton and ingénue Cecil Stapleton, among another half-dozen characters in and out of wigs, skirts, and kilts), Ryan Winkles (as Sir Henry Baskerville, among an additional half-dozen characters in and out of wigs, skirts, and kilts) and Jonathan Croy (as Dr. John Watson, played with the energy, focus, and comic verve of any half-dozen other actors combined). The three whiz through the 54-minute first act of the play, nary missing a pun, sight gag, non sequitur, or chance to knock not just a brick out of the Fourth Wall, but whole sections.

As Watson, Croy’s reenactment of the death of Sir Charles Baskerville encapsulates the production in a 30-second bit of lazzi. Croy is more animated and focused as a corpse than other actors are. . . . The comparison’s been used, but is still apt—as are most of the jokes in The Hound of the Baskervilles.

Most of the elements of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s original 1901 novel are here, but the quick pace, the zany Marx Brothers-begot-Monty Python-begot-Complete Works of Shakespeare quirkiness, and the tongue-in-cheekiness of the trio make this The Hound of the Baskervilles a delight. If your kids, students, or grandparents don’t like this Shakespeare & Company comedy, they just don’t have a sense of humor.

Even the groanworthy puns—“What do you think of this ‘Hound of the Baskervilles?” Sir Henry is asked; he answers nonplussed, “It’s just a pet story of the family’s”—create laughs. As do the sometimes belabored setups: Jack Stapleton states that all his students died of food poisoning; when Watson asks what type of school it was, a smiling Holmes replies with that most famous of Sherlockian cliches (which Doyle never actually wrote).

The 45-minute second act moves sprightly through mire, fog, and murder, with Winkles supplying the tour-de-farce lazzi: creating a rapid-fire gallery of Baskerville portraits by standing in, on, or behind a gilded picture frame. The improvisational, whiz-bang feel of this The Hound of the Baskervilles makes the “mistakes” (which don’t exist in real theater) all the more funny, and repeated viewings recommended. This is a true (prat) fall classic.

 


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