A Confounding Review
Article by Kristen Schweizer
I attended The Old Globe’s summer season production of BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY and have let the production marinate for a full week. This is partly because I had difficulty phrasing my feelings and half because the production is mostly sold out through its second (Did you hear me theater marketers? Second!) extension, so my review has little bearing on your ability to immediately buy tickets.
In fact, this west coast premiere of BASKERVILLE is The Old Globe’s fastest-selling production in the Sheryl & Harvey White Theatre. This tremendous success, and second extension, occurred before the show had even opened — so what shall we chalk that up to? We could say the cause is playwright Ken Ludwig, maestro playwright of Tony Award winning works such as Lend Me a Tenor, Moon over Buffalo, and The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. This was my belief until I said this out loud and my husband replied “that’s a too high-brow a reason, it’s because of Iron Man, er, Robert Downey Jr., doll.”
AH YES. Sherlock is so hot right now, you guys. Robert Downey Jr. did indeed re-popularize the high-functioning sociopath and glamorize Holmes’s witty, anti-social behavior and impossibly deductive thought leaps in a film and its sequel. At this moment, Benedict Cumberbatch is, while also playing the sold out Hamlet across the pond, making the world’s slowest BBC miniseries in SHERLOCK. Even Lucy Liu remains the only female Asian in a network television prime-time leading role as the gender-bent Watson in CBS’s Elementary. In the era of the anti-hero, Sherlock is too hot a commodity for the networks to pass up.
This is the struggle I had when I sat down in The Old Globe’s intimate Sheryl & Harvey White Theatre last Thursday. I expected dramatic lighting and analytical, multi-layered dialogue. My husband’s comment whisked playwright Ludwig out of my head until three minutes into curtain.
Director Josh Rhodes grabs the reins in a thoroughly choreographed, rollicking, farcical madhouse like a live-action Disney ride. Ludwig’s story, and Rhodes direction, is classic trope. Prat falls abound, costume changes dazzle and the story moves at a film pace. Out!, Rhodes and Ludwig, Out! they throw the brooding drug addict, with laughter they vanquished the loneliness, the pompous remarks and the superiority. For the real star of the show are Man One, Man Two, and Woman One.
Who? You ask.
The fast-moving, epic comedy uses the charming Euan Morton and versatile Usman Ally (what a change from Disgraced!) to move the story along, but it is the multiple characters – ALL played by the energetic trio of Mans/Womans – that keeps you wanting more. The multi-faceted Andrew Kober, transformational Liz Wisan, and physical comedy mastermind Blake Segal play countless characters with consistency and enthusiasm. For their work, which you do not want to miss, I hope to see a nomination for best ensemble at the upcoming Craig Noel Awards.
The ticket is worth its weight in gold. I had yet to see such an excellently executed farce since Lamb’s Player’s 2012 production of See How They Run or A Noise Within’s 2012 production of Noises Off. If you want surprise, laughter, family friendly fun and the greatest use of props you could ask for: get your tickets (if you can) as soon as you can.
The electric scenes move quickly, using props and the set to keep your interest at each unexpected location change. True to the novel, the killer and secrets are laid out as Sr. Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle intended, but the delivery is an entire genre to itself. As if the cast threw scalding hot water on the entire audience in the middle of a joke: you’re laughing, you’ve jumped to your feet…and since you’re standing: you might as well clap.