Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

September 30, 2009

The Hound of the Baskervilles

Shakespeare & Company, Lenox
through November 8, 2009
by Shera Cohen

Leave any reverence for Sherlock Holmes or Arthur Conan Doyle at home before attending “The Hound of the Baskervilles” at Shakes&Co. The play’s title is the only element of Doyle’s work that is still in tact. In just three weeks, director Tony Simotes has created one of the funniest play productions since “The Complete Works” and “Irma Vep.” In fact, blend the ingredients of theme and caricatures of “Works” and “Vep” and mix in dashes of any Monty Python spoof (for younger readers, think “Spamalot” without the music), and the U.S. premier of “Hound” becomes a delicious dish.

While the plot of the original “Hound” forms the framework, it’s easy for the audience to realize within the first minute that this is no ordinary Holmes, the sleuth. The big mystery of this “Hound” is to wonder, how does Simotes pull it all together and how do three actors pull it off? The answers don’t really matter, as the end results are that they succeed phenomenally.

To paraphrase the playbill, Simotes stated that he wanted to present a richly layered play that speaks profound truths about the human condition. “But instead, I directed this.” That was a tease for the next two-hours of non-stop comedy onstage and audience laughter.

The sound effects are howling dogs. The lights are dim, creating gigantic shadows. The set is sparse; i.e. it’s unbelievable what can be done with an old park bench. The costumes are many because two the actors portray multi-roles (male and female). The pace is fast, faster, and fastest as the story moves to its conclusion. Josh Aaron McCabe and Ryan Winkles are flawless in creating physical humor. While McCabe seems quite sober at first, he surprises in his hysterical roles as a Gypsy dancer and diminutive person (okay, a 3 foot hermit). Winkles is this year’s Shakes&Co. shining young star. He can do nothing wrong. His Scottish farmer with lamb in a sack is priceless. Jonathan Croy (a Shakes&Co. old timer) has the unenviable task of playing the semi-straight man, receiving fewer laughs than his cohorts. Ahhh, the price of fame.

Finally, kudos to the costume changers. Thank goodness for Velcro.