There’s a mystery afoot at Reno Little Theater: The heirs to the Baskerville fortune keep getting murdered, and there’s a hellhound on the loose. But in this madcap parody of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic The Hound of the Baskervilles, those in attendance are in far more danger of dying from laughter.
The play by comedic genius Ken Ludwig, Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, pits the world’s most-famous detective, Sherlock Holmes (played here by Rosie Calkin), and his sidekick, Dr. Watson (Ryan Costello), against the evil hound rumored to wander the desolate and unforgiving moors of England, killing off the male heirs to the Baskerville fortune as part of a deadly curse—and this is where Ludwig’s version veers from the original. In this wacky retelling, five actors play a mind-boggling 40-plus characters, wrangling a dizzying array of costumes and props, changing accents on a dime, and navigating an intricate and ingeniously designed set as they race to solve the mystery … although I’d argue that whodunit is almost an afterthought.
The newest heir, Sir Henry of Texas, has come to claim his fortune and has hired Holmes to solve the murders before he himself falls victim. Henry is played by “Actor 2,” Ian Sorensen, a longtime favorite among locals for his comedic and improvisational skills who moved to Seattle two years ago—a loss we all felt acutely. I’m thrilled to report he’s back and as funny as ever as the goofball, gun-loving Texan with a heart of gold who works with Watson to infiltrate Baskerville Hall and uncover the truth behind the curse. He also portrays an array of characters, from the constantly snacking, cockney-accented Inspector Lestrade, to a curly-haired domestic servant, and more.
Also integral to the performance are Actors 1 and 3—Jim Sturtevant and Katie Hughes, respectively. Each of Sturtevant’s characters is more absurd than the next: There’s Dr. Mortimer, who alerts Holmes and Watson to the case; a cockney street urchin who helps Holmes by spying; the somber, Lurch-like, German-accented man who, along with his wife, is caretaker of Baskerville Hall; a bizarre, butterfly-obsessed stranger who wanders the moors; and more.
Hughes displays remarkable versatility and comedic timing and she ping-pongs between a fellow cockney street urchin, a nurse, Henry’s love interest, an opera performer, and the other mysterious and bizarrely accented caretaker, and others—often in the blink of an eye.
High-speed costume changes are impressive, but all the more so when involving mustaches, wigs and pantaloons, not to mention radical changes to facial expressions, voice timbres and accents. Across the board, all the performances remain strong, with comedic timing sharp at all times; the laughs keep coming for the duration, which is a rarity, in my experience. There are gags aplenty, and the scenes are mayhem, but never chaotic—frequent costume failures and other unexpected challenges just become fodder for comedy, a way to play more with the audience. Take, for instance, Hughes’ costume change delay that results in an off-stage call, “I’m coming, wait a minute!”
Not to be overlooked is Chad Sweet’s direction, which involved guiding actors through an ever-changing, constantly moving set involving scaffolding on wheels, custom-built projections, doors that become beds and tunnels, and impressive uses of lighting and sound.
In this darkest, gloomiest, wettest of winters, what does one do to stay lighthearted and be entertained? It’s elementary! Start with tickets to Baskerville.
Reno Little Theater’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery will be performed at 7:30 p.m., Thursday through Saturday; and 2 p.m., Sunday, through Sunday, Feb. 12, at 147 E. Pueblo St. Tickets are $28, with discounts. For tickets or more information, call 775-813-8900, or visit www.renolittletheater.org.