THE BASICS: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Victorian/Gothic tale THE HOUND OF THE BASKERVILLES, adapted for the stage by R. Hamilton Wright and David Pichette, directed by Craig Hall, at the Shaw’s Festival Theatre in Niagara-on-the-Lake Ontario, runs through October 6, at a wide variety of days and times. 1-800-511-SHAW www.shawfest.comTravel time from Buffalo? To allow for bridge traffic, parking, etc. I’d recommend two hours. Runtime: 2 hours and 50 minutes including two 15-minute intermissions.
THUMBNAIL SKETCH: This is the famous story of Sir Henry Baskerville who has come to inherit his ancestral estate in Devonshire, although in a desolate section, bordering on the Grimpen mire, a wild and forlorn area where one mis-step could result in an agonizing death by drowning. Sir Henry’s predecessor seems to have died of fright when confronted with an enormous hound, known as the Baskerville curse. The local doctor, Dr. Mortimer, has asked Sherlock Holmes to intercede and prevent Sir Henry from succumbing to a similar fate. I’m sure you know the story.
THE PLAYERS, THE PLAY, AND THE PRODUCTION: Everyone has a favorite Holmes actor. In my case it was Jeremy Brett as seen on the PBS television series and for “Hound” it’s always been Basil Rathbone from the 1939 movie with Nigel Bruce as the bumbling Dr. Watson. But, you have your choice, as we read in the “Production History” in the program: “The Guinness Book of World Records lists Sherlock Holmes as the “’most portrayed character in history,’ with more than ninety actors playing the part in over 250 films and television shows.”
So I suppose it was going to take a lot for Shaw actor Damien Atkins to win me over, and while he did grow on me, mostly when he was in disguise, he came across as a little too young and a little too silly. Ric Reid was a more traditional Dr. Watson, but Patrick Galligan, whom I just LOVE in everything else he’s ever done at Shaw, wasn’t mysterious enough as Barrymore, the manservant with the dark secret concerning the escaped convict Selden. He seemed to have been assigned a utility role, just to move the plot from A to B then step aside, without being allowed to inform the Victorian/Steam/Gothic ethos fully.
Selden (an uncredited role) seemed frantically overplayed in his brief moments and the hound puppet was completely unconvincing and very disappointing. That was surprising at ShawFest where production elements are usually stunning which is a good word for the projections as designed by Jamie Nesbitt. The images of the hound, the moving train, and the rainstorm were quite memorable.
And, the two women on stage were magnificent. Claire Jullien does double duty first as Holmes’ landlady and housekeeper, Mrs. Hudson, and then as the agitated and distraught Mrs. Barrymore, Selden’s sister.
So, why go to this production? Because of Beryl Stapleton, both the actor who plays her and the character as she is re-imagined in this play. Natasha Mumba’s performance is consistent, believable, and in hindsight perfectly balanced with the way that her role has been slightly re-written. No spoilers here. You’ll just have to go to see a very satisfying ending. All I can say is “You go, girl!”
UP NEXT: The Shaw Festival 2018 runs to the end of October and so, if you find this September that you are an “empty nester,” either because your last child is off to college or those grandkids you’ve been entertaining all summer are now back in school, why not live a little and treat yourself? Especially when $1 gets you $1.30 Canadian. Or, to put it in more practical terms, at intermission, you can buy a $2.50 Coffee Crisp for $2.00 and everybody’s happy.
What’s next for you? Well, you have many choices. If you’d like a swirling dance-intensive musical, GRAND HOTEL is beautifully staged and up through October 14. O’FLAHERTY V.C. is a short one-act by G.B. Shaw himself with a wickedly engaging anti-war slant, and that runs before lunch through October 6. And, speaking of anti-war, OH WHAT A LOVELY WAR runs through October 13, while the somewhat disquieting THE BARONESS AND THE PIG runs through October 6. For the kids, THE MAGICIAN’S NEPHEW (a “prequel” to “The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe”) runs through October 13, while Shakespeare’s HENRY V goes to the end of the season, October 28.
*HERD OF BUFFALO (Notes on the Rating System)
ONE BUFFALO: This means trouble. A dreadful play, a highly flawed production, or both. Unless there is some really compelling reason for you to attend (i.e. you are the parent of someone who is in it), give this show a wide berth.
TWO BUFFALOS: Passable, but no great shakes. Either the production is pretty far off base, or the play itself is problematic. Unless you are the sort of person who’s happy just going to the theater, you might look around for something else.
THREE BUFFALOS: I still have my issues, but this is a pretty darn good night at the theater. If you don’t go in with huge expectations, you will probably be pleased.
FOUR BUFFALOS: Both the production and the play are of high caliber. If the genre/content are up your alley, I would make a real effort to attend.
FIVE BUFFALOS: Truly superb–a rare rating. Comedies that leave you weak with laughter, dramas that really touch the heart. Provided that this is the kind of show you like, you’d be a fool to miss it!