Philly loves Sherlock Holmes. Since 2013, regional theaters in the Philadelphia area have staged eight productions of at least three different adaptations of The Hound of the Baskervilles. The current offering at Theatre Horizon, adapted by British sitcom writers Steven Canny and John Nicholson, revives the Lantern’s 2015 production, which was also “revisited and adjusted” (according to the program) this fall at Delaware Theatre Company. It delivers laughs like a well-oiled machine.
Third time around
The play utilizes a fourth-wall-breaking “show-within-a-show” premise to present us with a retelling of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles with only three actors. It’s “cost-effective,” they tell us. Breakneck scenic and costume changes ensue to solve the mystery of the plotty Victorian novel. Thanks to the sharp direction of Matt Pfeiffer (his third time at the helm of Hound) the excellent work of the design team, and the nimble performances by the company, the show is largely a great success.
Returning for the third time as Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson (and others), Damon Bonetti and Dave Johnson have a sparkling chemistry. Bonetti’s Holmes is an overconfident, narcissistic dandy. Johnson’s oft-ignored and overlooked Dr. Watson plays the (not-so) straight man to Holmes. Johnson’s portrayal often seems to be the only shred of sanity as zany hijinks seem to fly from every direction.
New to the production is the excellent Steve Pacek as Charles Baskerville (and others). Pacek adds a welcome camp sensibility to the affair. Impressively, Pacek seems just as comfortable in his role as the returning cast. While Johnson spends most of the play as Watson, Pacek and Bonetti offer a masterclass in differentiating character roles and rounding out sparsely written characters. In particular, Bonetti’s Barrymore and Stapleton ooze with mystery and menace.
Director Matt Pfeiffer certainly knows how to make this play work. His clear understanding of comedic timing shows in the acting as well as in the show’s numerous and clever design elements. Taken from Delaware Theatre Company’s recent production, all elements work remarkably well in a theater that is about one-third the size. Mark William’s props offer some delightful sight gags. Jillian Key’s costumers and Meghan Jones’s set work both aesthetically and practically as they must change at the drop of the hat.
While the production is very polished, the script is not perfect. I found the “show-within-a-show” concept to be tedious. The meta-layer did little to add to my enjoyment of the proceedings and added to the 130-minute runtime. Cut all that out, along with the intermission, and you could have the show at a brisk 100 minutes.
Theatre Horizon is billing Hound of the Baskervilles as a holiday show. I am not sure I see the connection, unless all things Victorian are inherently festive. I do, however, think the production makes for a great bit of fun with family or friends.
What, When, Where
The Hound of the Baskervilles. Adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson from the story by Arthur Conan Doyle. Directed by Matt Pfeiffer. Through December 8, 2019 at Theatre Horizon, 401 Dekalb Street, Norristown, PA. (610) 283-2230 or theatrehorizon.org.
Theatre Horizon is an ADA-compliant venue, though there are no accessible parking spaces in the theater’s private lot. For questions about Theatre Horizon's accessibility, call the box office or email [email protected]
There will be a relaxed performance of Hound of the Baskervilles on Friday, November 22, 2019 at 8pm.