The howls you hear during “The Hound of the Baskervilles” stage play at the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival aren’t those of the titular hound, although there is that.
No, the howls are nearly nonstop from the audience at “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” a regular laugh-riot through July 16, Schubert Theatre, Labuda Center for the Arts, DeSales University, Center Valley. The opening night June 23 performance was seen for this review.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” adapted for the stage by Steven Canny and John Nicholson from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel, was first performed in 2007 by Peepolykus (pronounced “People Like Us”) and played a 10-week run at the Duchess Theatre in London’s West End.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles” was Conan Doyle’s third crime novel featuring detective Sherlock Holmes, and was originally published in 1901-02 as a magazine serial.
The play, as with the novel, is set in London and Dartmoor, the latter in the western part of England. The plot centers on Holmes’ investigation of the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, apparently at the jowls of that titular Hound. At that juncture, in the play, and perhaps in the novel, you may as well give the plot, ahem, the boot (the plot tracks a mystery boot).
The Canny and Nicholson comedy provides a tour-de-force platform for actors and the PSF production has de force, albeit with three actors, who have delighted audiences in previous PSF seasons and don’t disappoint in “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
Greg Wood plays Sherlock Holmes with the proper combination of somber reflection, unctuous revelatory pronouncements and a reticence in countenance owing to his mind being several steps ahead of his words. Wood’s is a well-considered performance as quick to light up as Holmes’ Calabash Pipe.
Carl N. Wallnau plays Dr. Watson, Holmes’ browbeaten assistant, with a touch of whimsy, aggrieved vanity over any perceived slight, and a ram-rod stance that gives him the hilarious appearance of a statue in the park.
Jacob Dresch plays Sir Henry Baskerville, the heir to the Baskervilles, with a puppy dog eagerness, an endearing distractedness and an attentiveness that’s winsome.
The three actors assay multiple roles, some 16 among them, including Wood as Cecile Stapleton and Mr. Barrymore and Mrs. Barrymore.
That the play must be exhausting for the actors is a rank understatement, owing to the accumulation of dialogue that fires like battalion rounds, timing of lightning-strike repartee, and quick-change costumes and entrance and exits achieved like Olympians running the hurdles.
Director Jim Helsinger is well-familiar with theatrical shenanigans, having directed “The 39 Steps,” “The Mystery Of Irma Vep,” “The Complete Works Of William Shakespeare (Abridged),” among other stage delights at PSF. The Helsinger touch, light, deft and fast, is in evidence in the brisk pace, as well as attention to detail and staging in the three-quarter round.
The actors step out of their roles several times, notably at the start of play in direct-address to audience and each other, incorporating actual biographical material. Another neat thing that the play does is have the actors refer to intentionally-missed lighting and sound cues.
Scenic and Lighting Designer Steve TenEyck gives us an efficient, minimalist and gestural setting. Sound Designer Don Tindall had his cues full and pulls it off. Costume Designer Lisa Zinni gets out the tweeds and Britishisms to convincingly delineate the play’s populace.
The play should be of interest to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle aficionados, especially members of The Baker Street Irregulars, a United States literary society, who would derive great pleasure from comparing the comedy’s plot twists and turns to those of the source material.
“Well done, Watson,” and PSF’s “The Hound Of The Baskervilles.”
Tickets: pashakespeare.org, 610-282-WILL (9455)