“Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” – Phoenix Theatre

Theater Review – January 30, 2017


Phoenix Theatre, Mainstage Theatre
Phoenix, AZ

“Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” is playwright Ken Ludwig’s 2015 murder mystery adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” but Ludwig’s play, acclaimed in earlier productions at Washington’s Arena Stage and New Jersey’s McCarter Theatre Center, is a thriller gone awry.

It isn’t Phoenix Theatre’s production that’s at fault.  It seems to be the bland, boring, and totally uninteresting plot that plods along tediously.  Primarily the fault of the playwright’s amazingly dull-witted adaptation, “Baskerville” wants to be a farce as it constantly screams for some really amusing situations that could transform it into a comedy.

Ludwig’s triumphant past hits include “Lend Me A Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo,” and his 1992 rethinking of George and Ira Gershwin’s 1930 musical “Crazy For You.”  But Ludwig’s collection of play duds is also large and “Baskerville” falls into the group of misses.  Although a small percentage of the opening night audience laughed here and there, many long dry spots occurred and the slowly evolving standing ovation at the end was unwarranted.  The play has been unfairly compared to the more inspired thriller parody “The 39 Steps.”

The plot bubbled on and on focusing on an evil hound that appears to be at the root of several characters deaths.  The show includes 40 supporting characters portrayed by three actors as Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, John Watson, attempt to identify the killer.  Revealing more details of the mindless and inane plot twists and turns would ruin the piece for anyone who stumbles into a performance.  It should be noted that there were audience deflections opening night.

Robert Kolby Harper’s clean staging finds and uses every idiotic plot bit for humor even if too little true audience laughter occurs.  The zippy staging also keeps the ploddingly slow show moving briskly as the production avoids dwelling on the mediocre story or the lame comedy.  The cast tries hard to keep the show blazingly comedic but their requisite English accents come and go awkwardly so the performers sound American although the play is set in the English Moors during Victorian times.

Randy Messersmith’s commanding Holmes dominates and Michael Jenkinson’s Watson is an able assistant to the investigative master.  Emily Mohney handles the female roles.  Toby Yatso tackles both suave and crass men plus a woman energetically while Pasha Yamotahari essays the more lightweight men amusingly.

I love murder mystery farces but “Baskerville,” while nicely produced, has little real humor so it plays blandly and slowly without amusing audiences.  “Baskerville” continues through February 12.  To order tickets, call the Phoenix Theatre box office at 602-254-2151 or order tickets online at www.phoenixtheatre.com.

Grade: D