I’m going to flout theater-criticism etiquette and tell you upfront “whodunit” in the new Good Company Players production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles”:
David Pierce and Ginger Kay Lewis Reed.
Before you get huffy with me, no worries: You won’t actually find these two folks on stage, of course. (What, did you think I was going to give away the killer in this Sherlock Holmes mystery?) These theatrical wizards are the scenic and costume designers, respectively, for the show, and their names are so familiar to GCP patrons that their names are likely to fly right by when you’re perusing the program or reading a review. Perhaps behind-the-scenes artists can be too proficient at their jobs: If you keep churning out excellence, show after show, it just becomes expected.
So what did Pierce and Lewis Reed “do” to deserve being singled out in the brisk and enjoyable “Hound”?
I’m not exactly sure why this GCP show is different from the dozens upon dozens of times I’ve seen their work before, but something about it makes me want to call out and take notice. Pierce’s handsome set perfectly captures the feel of a melancholy English manor house, from its jumble of tapestries, stone facings and wallpaper on the walls to the glass-doored exit leading to the mysterious (and deadly) moor beyond.
And Lewis Reed’s costumes are a period-piece delight, from Holmes’ trademark cape to the fussy minor-nobility excess of tweedy, thick-fabric suits and dresses, all with a musty English air.
Add to that Evan Commins’ atmospheric lighting design and the use of a fog machine, and the setting captures the sense of a lonely outpost on the edge of civilization, with scary things beyond.
There’s a curse upon this place, you see, that is said to extend through the generations. That isn’t very good news for Sir Henry (Alex Vaux), who has inherited Baskerville Halle after the mysterious death of his uncle. There’s said to be a terrible beast prowling on the moor with glowing red eyes and an appetite, it seems, for whatever poor guy has to pay taxes on the place.
That’s why Lady Agatha (Karan Johnson), a neighbor, has called in Sherlock Holmes (Gordon Moore) and his sidekick, Watson (Henry Montelongo) to investigate. Is Baskerville Hall under the assault of some supernatural being? Or is the lineup of all-too human suspects — and there are several — the answer?
Director J.J. Cobb and her strong cast keep the “whodunit” tone of the piece fresh and fun even as the oppressive atmosphere outside the manor house, with all that dank mist, seems to bear down. The first act is more deft than the first, which is a flaw in Tim Kelly’s adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic novel. My one disappointment overall with the production is in the climax of the show and the big revelation of the killer. The explanation and the action on stage feel like it rockets by too quickly. I kept wanting Cobb to slow things down a bit at this key moment and let the audience stew a little as questions are finally answered.
In secondary roles, Suzanne Grazyna (as the maid), Marikah Christine Leal (as an enigmatic young woman) and Johnson (as the neighbor who flits between steely and flustered) are all particularly effective.
Montelongo is utterly charming as Watson, and Julie Reimer is a treat as the dour and unreadable housekeeper.
As the most important character, Moore in many ways makes an impeccable Sherlock Holmes: He’s brusque but not unfeeling, erudite yet still accessible, suave without being smarmy. It’s great casting. But … Moore’s line readings were often just too rushed at the opening-weekend performance I attended. I lost too many important words. Granted, Holmes is an impatient man, but when the audience can’t understand him, it’s all for naught.
Still, it’s a minor weakness in an overall very sturdy production. Thanks to strong direction and acting — and a wonderful design — you’ll be glad that after a creepy night (or day, if you go to a matinee) in Baskerville Halle, it isn’t the time of year for tule fog.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles,” 7:30 p.m. Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays, through Oct. 15, 2nd Space Theatre, 928 E. Olive Ave. $20 general admission; $17 students/seniors/military; $12 student rush.
Donald’s list: Weekend choices (Aug. 25): Three theater openings this weekend at Good Company Players, Selma Arts Center and River City Theatre Company
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