Regional Reviews: Philadelphia
Philadelphia Theater Company has brought the unique stagecraft of the McCarter Theatre/Arena Stage production to the Suzanne Roberts Theatre. What starts out as a stark black box surrounded by a hundred stage lights comes to life with a few chairs, a swath of fabric, or a burst of smoke. Props and sets cleverly pop on and off stage as though they are members of the cast. Hands reach out unexpectedly from under the floor to remove costumes and flowers come flying from the sky to make a lush hillside. In my favorite sequence three actors effectively create a violently windswept night on the English moors with nothing more than some creative lighting and their own bodies. The design team's theatrical ingenuity is spectacular throughout.
Crystal Finn, Adam Green, and Matt Zambrano play dozens of characters over the course of the evening, transitioning from ominously elusive damsel in distress to rowdy errand boy, swaggering American cowboy to British detective, or nerdy naturalist to mild mannered executor. The quick changes are neat, but what's really impressive is how clearly each of these minor characters is carved out. Although there are instances where the quick changes are humorously played up, it is easy to forget that just three actors are giving so many hilariously funny and frequently memorable performances.
Ron Menzel is a bang on Sherlock Holmes. He does not shy away from the darker side of the famous detective (there are subtle allusions to his bouts of depression and addiction), but his focus on the energetic and excitable nature of Mr. Holmes brings a great energy to the stage and keeps the production from becoming too dark. Henry Clark is a bland Dr. Watson and a bit of a weak link in an otherwise excellent cast.
The interaction between the perpetually shifting scenery and the quick changing cast requires precise timing and as of the opening there were still a few awkward moments. In a comic farce a missed catch or misaligned set piece can be distracting, so hopefully these issues will be resolved quickly. Overall Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is a entertaining evening of comic mystery and an example of ingenious stagecraft at its very best.
Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs through Sunday, December 27, 2015, at the Philadelphia Theatre Company's Suzanne Roberts Theatre on Broad and Lombard Streets in Center City Philadelphia. Tickets are available at the box office or call (215) 985-0420 or online at PhiladelphiaTheatreCompany.org.
Playwright: Ken Ludwig