The instrumentation game’s afoot: Ludwig’s five-person ‘Baskerville’ opens during Arena

January 23, 2015 - accent chair

Actors lurch madly from stormy London to a famous misty fen in “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” a escapade new Ken Ludwig comedy now racing with pointing by Arthur Conan Doyle turf during Arena Stage.

If zero else, executive Amanda Dehnert’s uncover is greatly engineered. Trap doors strap open with surprises. Props startlingly dump to a theatre from above. The 5 performers playing 40 roles hit their outlines and disappear by a floor, or are unexpected framed within windows, or noise into chairs that expert on theatre from a wings.

Have we seen this pattern before? We have, in a general theatre strike “The 39 Steps” from London’s little Tricycle Theatre, with 4 actors ripping by a famous Hitchcock film. (It played a Warner Theatre in 2010.) The laughs were bigger and some-more disarming in that caper, nonetheless this knockoff of that knockoff positively runs with a well-oiled hum.

Ludwig, a D.C. counsel who incited playwright with his 1980s imitation prodigy “Lend Me a Tenor,” has dual actors personification Holmes and Dr. Watson and 3 actors personification everybody else. As Holmes, Gregory Wooddell is dashingly large and amusingly half mad, curling adult in a leather chair and waving with fad as a new poser lands in his lap. (Who killed Charles Baskerville? Was it unequivocally a abnormal chase pronounced to have condemned a farming engulf for years?) Lucas Hall is a youngish, fervent Watson; he and a autocratic Wooddell are an agreeably bubbly pair.

That leaves 3 dozen or so characters — not all of them particularly from a 1902 novel “The Hound of a Baskervilles” — for a other 3 actors, and how they keep them all true yet hopping into a wrong dress during a discerning change is anyone’s guess. Except, of curse, when they winkingly govern their tricks right in front of you.


(Clockwise from left:) Michael Glenn, Lucas Hall as Doctor Watson, Stanley Bahorek and Jane Pfitsch. (Margot Schulman)

Tops among Michael Glenn’s gallery are a Texas-twangy Sir Henry Baskerville and a repeated growly English detective. Stanley Bahorek waves a moth net as a suddenly rash hermit (or so he says) of a goddess of a mire, lisps Castilian character as a proud hotel table clerk, and plays a disfigured caretaker of a Baskerville manse with a hunched behind and a deformed hand. Jane Pfitsch is a dishy British belle, a chipper kid in knickers and a newsboy cap, and a caretaker’s creepy wife, whose uncanny European accent transposes w’s and v’s.

That turns “vigil with a woman” into “wigil vis a voman,” if we rightly listened Pfitsch’s cranky between “Young Frankenstein”’s Frau Blucher and Gilda Radner’s Baba Wawa during Thursday’s opening in Arena’s Kreeger Theater. Cheap laugh? That’s fuel in a tank for a car like this, that infrequently glides merrily downhill with stupidity yet also groans underneath all a luggage.

And there’s a rub. Set engineer Daniel Ostling keeps a theatre bare, nonetheless a show’s observable luxury undercuts a grounds of a silly whim finished on a cheap. The theatre is impressively framed by scarcely a hundred lighting instruments, and a mixed trap doors that Dehnert exploits expected won’t be accessible to a smaller companies that are certain to permit Ludwig’s economically geared, fast-paced book (an easy pre-sell with a well-branded characters) in entrance seasons.

The sensibility of “Baskerville” derives from off-off-Broadway stay and Charles Ludlam’s Ridiculous Theatrical Company, that specialized in medieval cross-dressing sendups on meagre budgets. Ludlam’s “The Mystery of Irma Vep” felt forced and overproduced in Arena’s hands several seasons ago; avoiding “the scent of art” was a Ludlam warning that a association didn’t heed. And nonetheless a contented Ludwig is nowhere nearby as rebellious as Ludlam, a high gloss of “Baskerville” has some-more than a gloomy aroma of subterraneous pleasure appropriated as mainstream ripoff.

You could suppose this operative like gangbusters in a Old Vat Room, a scabby musical space Arena had in a groundwork before a 2010 expansion. “Baskerville”’s subsequent stop, though, is a 1100 chair McCarter Theatre Center in New Jersey, that is co-producing this premiere. You can’t assistance yet admire a trickery and fun of a amiable expel as they locate hats tossed from a wings and change characters and wigs (by Leah J. Loukas) and costumes (cleverly finished by Jess Goldstein) as fast as Philip S. Rosenberg flicks a switches in his puckishly capricious lighting design. Yet it grates to see a increasingly commercial-minded Arena grabbing during audience-capturing formulas and so apparently aping little Tricycle’s fresher success.

By Ken Ludwig. Directed by Amanda Dehnert. Sound designers, Joshua Horvath and Ray Nardelli. About dual hours. Through Feb. 22 during Arena Stage, 1101 Sixth St. SW. Tickets $45-$110, theme to change. Call 202-488-3300 or revisit www.arenastage.org.

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