The nip in the air, the sight of pumpkins and the store displays of costumes and candy are all indicators that fall and Halloween are upon us. What better way to usher in these cooler days and longer nights than with a good Sherlock Holmes mystery?
“Baskerville,” by Ken Ludwig, is the autumn offering of Mitchell Area Community Theatre. Directed by Anessa Klumb, this writing literally interprets the popular novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, but does so with humor and stage techniques that make it entertaining, whether you know the story or not.
Sherlock Holmes and his faithful sidekick, Dr. John Watson, are pressed into service to solve the murder of a Devonshire lord by a mysterious beast — a hound — who is terrorizing the moors.
There are many colorful characters, each who must be eliminated from consideration before the killer is eventually identified by the savvy sleuths. Eric Van Meter ably plays Holmes and I was pleased to see Kevin Carroll return to the stage as Watson. The rest of the large cast is portrayed by a small company of seven actors who, through rapid costume changes, play more than two dozen separate characters.
Gary Thury, an ACT regular, plays the namesake victim, Sir Charles Baskerville, and his American heir, Sir Henry, in addition to four others. Hilarious moments are delivered in turn by Jessica Baas (the Castilian desk clerk) and Theodore Grove (Stapleton).
A couple of my favorite characters were portrayed by Valerie Marsh, who delivers a laugh-out-loud performance as Mrs. Barrymore. Matthew Bailey, Emily Rames and Wyatt Thomas round out the company.
Timing and blocking are critical in this show to achieve the quick costume changes. The cast seemingly performed flawlessly, never missing a cue. Also, little touches like a pantomimed carriage ride add to the physical action. An old trope involving a live actor standing in a portrait frame also works well.
The set, designed by Klumb and Devin Carey, uses a familiar technique with multiple levels used to simulate the moors, the houses and other locations. Carey’s lighting design is superb and brings a necessary eeriness for the murder and mayhem that ensues. Costumes by Klumb and Rames are period-perfect.
The sound was much improved; it is noted in the program that ACT has recently upgraded its system. Sound design by Isaac Schulte added to the overall performance with several humorous effects. My favorite was the burst of dramatic music whenever the “mire” is referenced. Also entertaining was the use of the catchy theme from the BBC’s recent “Sherlock” series for curtain call.
This show is Klumb’s return to directing after an eight-year absence. In the program notes, she writes about the symbolism of the hound: the inner demon that sometimes possesses each of us. I watched this show with that in mind, and I compliment her for using her struggles to shine a needed light on mental illness. Whatever your personal “hound” is, we could all be so lucky to have a Holmes and Watson in our corner to help us solve our own mysteries.
The show by Area Community Theatre has performances Friday, Oct. 11, and Saturday, Oct. 12, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Oct 13, at 2 p.m. at the Pepsi-Cola Theatre. Tickets are on sale at the theatre or more information is available at 996-9137 or www.mitchellact.org.