He’s droll, he’s logical; he’s the master of elementary observation – Yes! – It’s Sherlock Holmes.
Add one very large hound, sinister characters, an ancestral history of grisly death; the dismal Devonshire estate on England’s Dartmoor and . . . uhm. . . uproarious laughter spurred on by puns, pranks and insider jokes. By jove! You’ve got Ken Ludwig’s parody on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1901 classic masterpiece, Hound of the Baskervilles.
Now what if, a talented local director wanted to play with Ludwig’s parody even further by adding cross-gender casting? That is; the characters Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson in nineteenth-century masculine attire, but played by women?
Last night this is precisely how Edmonds Driftwood Players (The Players) opened their 59th Season! Was it risky to go full Monty on Ludwig’s parody by adding the element of cross-gender casting? My Edmonds News asked Board of Directors president Ted Jaquith that question in the lobby of the Wade James Theatre before the performance.
“Risky? Not at all,” assured Jaquith. “The playwright and director talked it over; the Players selected Fouhy knowing full well how he would be handling the casting – we all loved the idea!”
Artfully Edmonds discussed this aspect of the production in its Wednesday, Sept. 6 column.
After Jaquith’s welcoming remarks made to a full house, the house lights dimmed, revealing a stark set, painted flat black – the design of Brian Lechner. A platform overtakes the stage with a set of steps to the left and right leading up to a supra-level, which overlooks an ingenious orchestra-pit-type “hollow” from which characters pop up and disappear back into, throughout the production.
The stage is set for the first piercing howl of the hound, the blood-curdling scream and the futile cross stage dash-from-death that Sir Charles Baskerville attempts. Sound design is skillfully managed by Arian Smit. The lighting, shadows and the strobes across the background scrim reflect the work of John M. Chenault, lighting designer.
As the first death-screech fades, this reviewer was literally struck by the callous reaction of full-on laughter from the audience! A macabre death scene had just been played out, a ghastly red strobe swept back and forth across the stage! A victim flops to the stage!
Okay; this reviewer was prepared for the cross-gender casting, but Baskerville as a parody? Nope. Nothing in the pre-show publicity or advertising “clued” us that this was going to be Sherlock Homes enhanced by surround-sound laughter.
If this reviewer was left out in the desolate cold on this one – the appreciative audience was not.
Once we caught on to the dark humor of it all; it became clear that Ludwig doesn’t miss a beat when it comes to “camp humor,” a vamping cast, corny reeled-in supra-titles, Punch and Judy shadow boxing, behind a back-lit scrim, and surprises that we don’t dare spoil in this telling.
“It was hilarious!” raved Edmonds resident Barbara Hall during The Players’ post-production party. Hall noted that her family has followed the troupe’s success for the past 59 years, adding that she and the theatre company share the same birth year.
Luminaries and local theatre celebrities added to the crowd that poured into the lobby to congratulate the cast after the play. Managing Director of the across-town Phoenix Theatre, Debra Rich Gettleman, was on the arm of her son, Levi, who participates in the theatre program of the Northshore School District. The Gettlemans traded “Hello’s” with music educator and resident music director of The Players, Mark Press.
Baskerville Producer Joanne Branch noted in a quick interview before drifting off to collect congratulations from an enthusiastic crowd, that playwright Ludwig had stayed word-for-word true to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s dialogue.
And although the script is in keeping with Doyle’s spirit, Ludwig makes a left turn in lining up his characters’ profiles. Sir Henry Baskerville, poised to inherit the doomed Devonshire estate is not a Canuck. Ha Ha Ha! Has Ludwig got a surprise or his audiences!
As the fog rolls in, enclosing the moors of Dartmoor (even this special effect earns guffaws), doorways to the estate are opened (more laughter) and bodies throw themselves onto the stage (full-on gales of laughter!)
Director Paul Fouhy’s handling of this dark-humored production is crazy great. This should come as no surprise when one recalls that Fouhy is the theatre talent who brought The Players’ production of Good Ole Mom & Dad (Eric Bischoff) to the winner’s circle during last season’s Festival of Shorts.
The cast is led by Emma Thompson’s on-stage look alike, Kris ‘Pepper’ Hambrick. In interviews, actor Emma Thompson has revealed that she, herself, would like to be cast as Sherlock Holmes.
Although Hambrick did not have a speaking role in her first Driftwood appearance in the production, Forum, she made up for the deficit in impeccable style as Holmes. Dry-wit, haughty: like Holmes on his way to solving a mystery, everything about Hambrick’s performance says, “I’ve got this!”
“Brava, Ms. Hambrick. Brava!”
Hambrick was matched nicely with Brynne Garman who makes her third appearance on the Wade James boards
The balance of the parade of 21 characters were played by three actors:
Robert Alan Barnett [Actor Two], as “The Texan” (we say no more!) is laugh-out-loud funny. Barnett has a myriad of quick-change roles in Ludwig’s Baskerville. He lumbers, he lurches, he even flirts.
Barnett’s dialogue delivery, regardless of which of the many characters he’s playing, represents the best in opening night preparedness.
Elex Hill [Actor Three] made a spectacular opening night debut on The Players’ stage. Elex says to the audience, I hope “you enjoy all the hard work put into this show, both in preparation and [in each performance] as we frantically change characters.”
Last, but not least is a My Edmonds News shout-out for the performance of Ingrid Sanai Buron [Actor One]. This woman has chops! Her Player’s experience only includes Spider’s Web; but her beyond-Edmonds experience speaks volumes. That mug! The various accents! That doll’s hand – ha ha ha!
Ingrid spent 10 years in Los Angeles where she was cast in House and Prison Break (on Fox); The Unit (CBS); Gilmore Girls (the CW); and, According to Jim (ABC). We are hoping to see much more of Sanai Buron between her gigs in commercials, local films, and voice-overs.
Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, as directed by Paul Fouhy is a mirthful, laughter-worthy, loyal to the literature parody. If your object is to leave your worries about fires, floods, and the Beltway behind – this production will work wonders.
Highly recommended – go have fun!
Tickets for you, your date and your friends are available by calling the box office at 425-774-9600 or you can pick up tickets at the troupe’s online box office.
(Updated from original post.)
— By Emily Hill