Monday, March 12, 2012

The Hound of the Baskervilles

From romance to horror story…

After Cinderella, the Hound of the Baskervilles?

After staging the popular Rodgers and Hammerstein production last fall, Corban University Theatre set a new pace for this spring with Tim Kelly’s dramatization of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s nightmare story—where everything is definitely not as it seems. I saw the play a couple days after it opened and enjoyed it overall, though with a couple reservations.

In this production, as in the original story, Sir Henry Baskerville (Peter Ellis) gains a large inheritance after his uncle, Sir Charles, dies suddenly. Sir Henry, however, soon discovers that his uncle’s death and the estate itself may be linked to a two hundred year old curse.

One of the two most regrettable changes to the story appears in the opening scene, with the introduction of Lady Agatha Mortimer. Lady Agatha (Claire Clubb) replaces Dr. James Mortimer as the local country doctor, and Sir Henry’s concerned friend, who brings Holmes and Watson to the scene. While Clubb played Lady Agatha well, the character feels forced at times, especially when Lady Agatha (a female doctor in the Victorian era) announces that it was she who performed the autopsy following Sir Charles’s death.

Apart from this historical anomaly, however, the story spins on into beautiful chaos. Almost against his wishes, Sir Henry is forced to call on Sherlock Holmes (Jon Bennet) for help. Holmes declares he can’t possibly take the case—not yet anyway, although Dr. Watson (Joe Kraft) can stay if he likes.

With this meager assurance, Holmes leaves Watson to ward off the ancient curse of the Baskervilles, while Sir Henry falls rapidly in love with his beautiful neighbor Kathy Stapleton (Hayley Dawson), fends off Kathy’s infuriated brother Jack (Taylor Husk), and frets over his butler’s underhanded conspiracy.

Watson, left to himself, blunders along in most Watsonian style, aghast at the country ignorance which refuses to eat carrots because of the crunch they make and convinced that he has investigated every possible clue—except those too trivial to worry about. While the other members of the cast struggle at times to play the age of their characters, Kraft gives the most convincing performance, acting and sounding like the middle-aged Watson. He is both disgruntled and yet true-hearted, grumbling when Holmes calls him away from his well-earned dinner, yet instantly ready to follow him onto the moor in a desperate attempt to rescue Sir Henry.

The format of the play necessarily limits its action, but guest director Rachel Ost balances these limitations with the intimacy of a thrust stage—a square stage surrounded on three sides by the audience. Ost presents the audience, in fact, as guests in Baskerville Hall, where they watch the action unfold firsthand.

This intimacy, with the energy of the actors, carries the audience past the smaller weaknesses in the play. Neither the actors nor the director can avoid the larger problems with Lady Agatha’s character as a female doctor and the script’s final efforts to surprise audience members already familiar with the story. Still, despite these flaws, I found the play intense and absorbing, though not for younger viewers—at least one 12-year-old audience member believed the play might inspire nightmares of his own. Go and see it if you can, or at least reread the story and marvel at the dark horror on the moors.


Amber S. said...

Great post, Audrey! :) I saw the final dress rehearsal and enjoyed it, as well. I was wondering how they were going to adapt this book to the stage...but somehow they managed to still keep it suspenseful! I really enjoyed the book, and while the play is certainly limited, it's enjoyable, as well.

And I agree that Joe did a great job as Watson!


Anonymous said...

I think that Cinderella was by Rogers and Hammerstein, Audrey. Nice review though!

Audrey said...

Glad to hear you went as well, Amber! I think it's always interesting to see how books are adapted for different media, wether play or movie, and I would agree that Corban Theatre did very well with this version.

And thank you for the correction, Emma. I've fixed the mistake in the post.

Krista M.V. said...

Oh, cool! I absolutely love that book! Having a female doctor in that time of history is fudging it just a bit. lol. But sounds like they did a great job. :)

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