Ludwig calls Baskerville “a vessel into which you can pour any kind of liquid.” And director Eric Davis shows us with madcap skill that theater at its best, unlike film, is not a realistic medium. The excitement here is drawing the audience in with scenic fragments, lightning fast costume changes, an staggering array of spot-on accents, and—wink, wink—actors running offstage and re-emerging seconds later with a different hat, posture, prop, mustache, hunchback or ridiculous fake beard held on with visible elastic. Half the uproarious fun is that we’re in on the joke, even as the parade of suspects keeps us guessing who is responsible for the death of Charles Baskerville and is the wild hellhound with “glowing eyes, and dripping jaws” who prowls the Devonshire moors even real. Ludwig has great fun by transforming Sir Henry, the Baskerville heir, from a stuffy British gentleman into, horrors, a garish American cowboy complete with 10-gallon hat.
Two simple turned wooden benches and a few chairs serve as a Hansom cab, a train compartment, a hotel counter, a rock formation on the Devonshire moors, and even Holmes’ beloved box at the Royal Opera House. The theater is configured as an “aisle” stage with banks of seats facing each other and Tom Hansen’s elegant Victorian entrances anchoring each end. Both sides highlight 19th century wooden details with chair rails, corbels and lattice; one features an open frame flanked by simple leather chairs, the other a door with glass panels above a landing with two steps, the bottom curved like the apron of a stage. A plane of a dozen plus incandescent iron lanterns hovers over the stage like a sparkle of fireflies. It’s a splendid canvas on which to spin this tale.
freeFall’s supremely talented anchors are in top form. Artistic Director Davis is a theatrical polymath. Embodying the supremely cool and cerebral Sherlock Holmes, Davis returns to the stage while also directing the madcap action with perfect panache. Additionally, he provides plenty of dramatic, cinematic underscoring, frightening snarls from the terrifying hound, flourishes that announce that something shocking is sure to follow, and any manner of pulse-quickening orchestral snippets à la Mahler.
The three other actors (Kelly Pekar, James Putnam, and Robert Teasdale) are simply astonishingly versatile. Each plays multiple characters with hilarious specificity employing estimable comic timing. And what makes it all so delightful is spoofing known cultural references. There are shades of the lunatic best from popular culture touchstones—as if Conan Doyle’s prose somehow had a ménage a trois with the “Carol Burnett Show” and the insane, inane world of Mel Brooks.
Pekar, as the lone female, is a singular presence. She gets to run the gamut from spit and snarl through a series of delicious accents to a scarlet-gowned love interest who indeed stops our cowboy at first sight as he dissolves mid-sentence with “my lord, you have beautiful eyes.”
The fast-paced evening is full of surprises, which includes the superb design work by Deborah Lastinger (costumes) and Jo Averill-Snell (lights). The madcap style with dozens of characters and myriad settings lets these artists reach deep into their bag of theatrical tricks unleashed. With so many choices and few stylistic restraints, they rise to the occasion with riveting results.
"This has been a grand week for local, professional theater across Tampa Bay."tweet this
All told, it’s a complete triumph from concept to execution on par with freeFall’s best.
I feel compelled to share that this has been a grand week for local, professional theater across Tampa Bay. I was away earlier and missed several openings, so I just saw four plays and an opera in five days. Some are now gone, but I heartily recommend that you get away from your TV to experience the unique thrill of these live performances. Stageworks’s chilling world premiere of Mark Leib’s “When the Righteous Triumph” (through April 2), and Jobsite’s “Misery” with a career performance by Summer Bohnenkamp torturing real life spouse, David Jenkins (thru April 9).