By Margaret Darby
Costume designer Kayla Speedy has truly earned her name in the Walnut Street Theatre Independence Studio on 3’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville, a Sherlock Holmes Mystery. With three actors playing 40 different characters, speed is essential and she and her cast deliver. Bill van Horn directs and stars in a very tight production of playwright Ken Ludwig’s comic takeoff on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles.
The show’s set, designed by Scott Groh, made effective and inventive use of a small space. Hangings of stretchable cloth painted and stenciled to look like Victorian wallpaper made it feel like a believable 221b Baker Street, complete with Holmes’ winged armchair.
Bill van Horn portrayed the Doctor Watson. I remember from the old Basil Rathbone movies, but Ian Merrill Peakes was a little too heavy-handed and strong for the quiet, drug-using detective who almost whispered his ingenious solutions after all other characters had blundered through their guesses.
The three actors who portray the forty other characters in the play were so good they would make me laugh by simply standing on a street corner. They changed clothes, character, and accents so quickly it made your head spin. The physicality of their shticks was so good it resembled special effects, especially when Dr. Watson (Bill van Horn), Dr. Mortimer (Dan Hodge), and Sir Henry Baskerville (Jered McLenigan) battle the gusts of Devonshire moor winds.
Jered McLenigan is delightful as the Texan heir to the Baskerville estate, complete with cowboy hat, bowlegged walk and an Aw-shucks appeal. He also plays the rather weird butterfly enthusiast Stapleton and the reclusive Dr. Mortimer, a village doctor devoted to the Baskerville family, its history, and tippling. McLenigan takes on many other roles, but I must mention his standout portrayal of the Baskerville ancestor, Sir Hugo, ingeniously costumed for period, laughs, and clues to the identity of another character.
Sarah Gliko is an accent master. My favorite of her accents in the show was Gliko’s Mrs. Barrymore, the Baskerville housekeeper. Her reversing of her ‘v’ and ‘w’ was superbly and vonderfully vicked. How does she arrive in another wig, another accent, and another costume in less than five seconds? (Brava costume team and Ms. Gliko)
But even Ms. Gliko was so intense in her chameleonic changes that she had to give the audience a personal aside when she glided into place and the other actors look at her as if she had been five minutes late. “Well, I am not DAN HODGE!” she says in the accent of the character (a ruffian teenaged male employed by Sherlock Holmes for a little illicit research). In split-second changes, she becomes Miss Stapleton, the simpering target of Sir Henry Baskerville’s affection, the stiff and no-nonsense nurse in Dr. Mortimer’s office, the deaf wife of the printer and many more. When she played Miss Laura Lyons, the typist, she kept up a hilarious typing mime which was accompanied by brilliant typing sound effects which were spot on. Kudos to John Kolbinski, whose sound design including great choices in musical sound bites and effects that drew as much laughter as the actors.
Ms. Gliko and her sidekick, the second ruffian, were perfectly coordinated in their timing, physicality, and energy that I wanted more. The sidekick, Dan Hodges has such a gift for physicality and comic timing. His Dr. Mortimer, Mr. Stapleton, and Hugo Baskerville were so entirely different, it made the play feel as if it had a cast of twenty, rather than five.
Bill van Horn’s direction allows Ken Ludwig’s comedy to flourish and move quickly, but the real mystery of this show is how they change costumes so quickly. I may have to go back just to figure out how they do it.
If you go: “Baskerville, a Sherlock Holmes Mystery” runs at Walnut’s Independence Studio on 3, 825 Walnut Street, Philadelphia through February 4, 2018, Tuesdays through Sundays with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays. Tickets are $35-$40 and are now available at 215-574-3550 or 800-982-2787. Tickets are also available at walnutstreettheatre.org or Ticketmaster.com.