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You know that moment when you and your friends start to laugh about something and just can’t stop and from that point on everything is hilarious? That’s what the zany production of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles at the Lantern Theater Company is like. It begins when those with low self-esteem are invited to leave the theater and piles joke upon joke so that the pace never lets up, even as the mystery about a family threatened by a cursed hound on the moors unravels as background to the fun.
Whether the esteemed Sherlock Holmes would have agreed to take part in such a production is doubtful, but as played by Damon Bonetti, he is right there in the midst of the silliness, although he does insist on keeping his clothes on beneath a towel when he enters a steam room, and he’s very insulted to be considered as anything less than the best detective on the planet.
Conceived as a comedy by Steven Canny and John Nicholson (one can just imagine the writing process), the pair included almost every form of comedy they had ever seen — bad puns, physical humor, deadpan humor, misunderstandings, and improvisation. The script has it all, and more. And the actors seem totally at home changing costumes and characters as fast as they can behind the scenes and sometimes right before our eyes.
No Canadian accent
The three actors seem like friends who have gotten together for an evening to see who can top each other in being outrageous. Daniel Fredrick’s charming goofiness makes him perfect for all the living and dead members of the Baskerville family (even if he “can’t do a Canadian accent”) as well as an occasional yokel. Dave Johnson is both a befuddled Watson, who likes to shoot everything in sight, and an equally perplexed yokel. And Bonetti as Holmes, the mysterious Stapleton and his lusty South American wife, Cecile, as well as various household servants and a train conductor, manages to keep his accents and his gestures appropriate to each.
If you should happen to miss the first act of this production, or, highly unlikely, fall asleep during that act, do not worry. The actors recreate it at breakneck speed at the start of the second, incensed by a supposed tweet insulting the performance.
Matt Pfeiffer’s direction keeps the pace going, and the set (scenic design by Meghan Jones) allows for changes of location with minimal fuss. One of the best props is a trunk that opens into a railway seat with red velvet cushions.
If you’re in the mood for a laugh and don’t mind someone playing fast and loose with Conan Doyle’s classic work, then this is a play worth seeing.
For Mark Cofta's review of Baskerville, a similar pastiche at the McCarter earlier this year, click here.
What, When, Where
The Hound of the Baskervilles. By Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. Matt Pfeiffer directed. Through June 28, 2015 at the Lantern Theater Company at St. Stephen’s Theater, 10th and Ludlow Streets, Philadelphia. 215-829-0395 or www.lanterntheater.org.
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