Review: "Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery" at Long Wharf Theatre

Tara Kennedy

  • Chief Connecticut Theatre Critic
  • Connecticut Critics Circle
  • American Theatre Critics Association

Playwright Ken Ludwig is making the rounds here in Connecticut with another piece that originated at the McCarter Theatre Center in Princeton in 2015. This time, it’s an adaptation of another mystery writer, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and his illustrious pipe-smoking sleuth, Sherlock Holmes, with a reworking of one of Doyle’s most famous Sherlock Holmes stories, The Hound of Baskerville.

When my mind pondered the idea of a Doyle/Ludwig combination, I admit I was skeptical; campy antics do not belong in the brooding Victorian era. However, Ludwig smartly scripts three (primarily two) actors to play multiple roles that all swirl around Holmes and Watson during the two-act, two-hour murder mystery.  It’s watching that magic happen that makes the show a worthwhile venture for me, along with clever set design and staging.

Sir Charles Baskerville, a wealthy Devonshire land owner, dies under mysterious circumstances, and Sherlock Holmes (Alex Moggridge) and Doctor Watson (Daniel Pearce) are on the case.  Enter Sir Henry Baskerville (Christopher Livingston), who is heir apparent to the Baskerville fortune, and he and Watson set off to the Devonshire estate so Sir Henry can claim his fortunes and to figure out who killed Sir Charles. One theory is that Sir Charles was murdered by the Baskerville hound, a legend that wandered the moors. Along the way, they meet a total of 36 characters, mostly played by Kelly Hutchinson and Brian Owen, including, but not limited to: a Castilian hotel manager; a manic butterfly collector; a gothic German couple Mary Shelley could’ve created; opera performers (Tosca and Falstaff!); and a pair of cockney errand boys.  In true Sherlock Holmes fashion, the case is solved, exposing the culprit, who turns out to have a connection to the hound and the Baskervilles themselves.

 Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Photo: T. Charles Erickson

Mr. Owen and Ms. Hutchinson steal every scene they’re in, and with good reason. They play multiple roles of varying genders utilizing a smorgasbord of accents; waiting to see who they play next is a show within itself. There are even times that they indicate that it’s time for one of the actors to transform into their next personality, a nice wink to the audience. Jokes drew from old-school humor that felt smarter than your average farce. Maybe it was the overall setting or all the English accents? Mr. Moggridge, Mr., Pearce, and Mr. Livingston also perform well: Moggridge is a meticulous Holmes (except for a few line flubs); Mr. Pearce an honest Watson; and Mr. Livingston a big-as-life Texan.

However, I felt that that the pacing was a bit off in places, and with madcap Ludwig, it needs to be spot on: chalk it up to opening-night jitters. There were some moments where I lost some of the actor’s lines, missing some key information relevant to the plot line.  

Set design by Tim Mackabee was minimal: the setting was a black box with set pieces (primarily doors) to indicate various dwellings, manipulated by the actors. However, I was disappointed in what the Baskerville hound turned out to be: a barely-phosphorescent puppet, hiding in the shadows. Lighting designer Robert Wierzel does an especially wonderful job with his design, where lighting plays a key role in guiding actors through the dark London streets and passageways. One of the best things that this team did was have the stage crew come out and bow with the cast. Without their assistance, there is no way that these actors could’ve transformed into the next character that they had to play.

For those who are accustomed to and appreciate the Victorian styling of Sherlock Holmes, this may be too zany for you. Having not much experience with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s literary hero, I found this wacky version entertaining in that it lets the audience be in on how the play comes together, one quick change at a time.