CEDAR CITY — It is a story of intrigue, lies, deceit, murder… and comedy?
A twist on the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery The Hound of Baskerville by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the Simon Fest production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery by Ken Ludwig strikes an excellent balance between mystery, suspense and humor. Tackled by a cast of five actors portraying 40 characters and a stage that transforms into nearly 30 locations, bringing a production of Baskerville to life takes creativity, ingenuity and superb talent. Fortunately, this cast hit the mark.
Smokey haze filled the Heritage Theater in Cedar City as a relatively small but eager audience took their seats on opening night. On stage, a video screen projecting an image of a moon, half hidden by dark clouds, partially illuminating an ominous looking gate served as the focal point of the opening scene.
Two platforms and a small table with two chairs was the whole of the scenery (set design by Brad Shelton) as the lights came up to reveal a delightful Mrs. Hudson (played by Sceri Ivers, one of her many wonderful roles of the night) and Dr. Watson (played by Ian Oliver) and Sherlock Holmes (played by Richard Hill) discussing the origins of a recently discovered walking stick. The stage itself is rather large for such a small cast but they made good use of the space, doing their best not to get swallowed by its depth and playing to all corners of theater.
As one would expect from the famous Sherlock Holmes, Hill was the embodiment of the quirky, confident and keenly observant detective. As a side note, the playbill features Hill with one of the least traditional actor headshots I have seen, but it paired nicely with his bio filled with tongue-in-cheek humor and a droll warning to audience members that there was still time to reconsider seeing his performance.
Despite Sherlock Holmes getting top billing as the title role, this is truly an ensemble cast — working together under the supervision of director Brandon Burk. The five actors function like a well-oiled comedy improv machine to elicit genuine chuckles throughout the night. With five actors covering so much ground and so many characters, speed is the name of game for this cast and crew. Some opening night flubs were covered so neatly the audience was left to wonder if they were actually intended. Like a few late entrances with exaggerated breathlessness to draw a laugh; and the skilled ad-libbing by the actors as they wondered when a missing cast member would arrive.
The ability to make a spoof on the original Hound of Baskerville mystery speaks to the strength of the original writing. Thanks to Arthur Conan Doyle’s original words, the story is great whether told at its usual pace, or much more quickly as in Baskerville. Notwithstanding the humor, the play overall had a feeling of mystery and suspense that seemed to stay pretty true to the original story, making it accessible to every audience member, whether they’re familiar with The Hound of Baskerville or not.
The physical comedy once again speaks to the strength of the ensemble cast. Additionally, the sound effects played a major role in filling out some of the scenes. One scene in particular — after what felt like an unnecessarily long intermission — showed Watson and Sherlock making their way across the windy moors with great difficulty.
After witnessing the strength and talent of this Simon Fest production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, the only mystery remaining to be solved is when a larger audience will discover it.