By Lauren Van Hemert
Inspired by what is arguably Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-known Sherlock Holmes novel, The Hound of the Baskervilles, Ken Ludwig’s witty play Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery pays homage to the detective genre. But what makes the Raleigh Little Theatre production of Ludwig’s play most notable is its unconventional casting and ingenious staging which turns the myth of Sherlock Holmes on its head.
In this story, Holmes and his trusted sidekick Watson are recruited by Dr. James Mortimer to solve the mystery behind the untimely death of Sir Charles Baskerville. It appears that Baskerville may have been killed by some sort of hellish hound lurking in the Devonshire moors. So, the race is on to close the case before the mysterious moors claim another victim.
Interestingly, according to Samuel French, the company which licenses Ludwig’s script, one of the play’s attributes is the fact that it features a strong role for a leading man, a star vehicle, in fact. And while that may seem elementary to many, this Raleigh Little Theatre production may offer a compelling argument as to why the role of the iconic super sleuth might also be a star vehicle for a woman.
Here Mary Rowland is no Nancy Drew. She’s no Irene Adler either, the only female character to have ever outsmarted Sherlock Holmes. In fact, in this production, Rowland is Sherlock Holmes, deerstalker cap, cape, and all. And to Rowland’s capable, confident, and savvy Holmes is an equally adept Laurel Ullman, playing the role of Dr. Watson.
Yes, the cross-gender conscious casting of both the Holmes and Watson characters in this production is compelling not only because it contemporizes Doyle’s Victorian story but also because it debunks any preconceived notions of who these characters are, which makes for a rich theatrical experience.
Not only that, but director Jeremy Skidmore’s clever staging and knack for comedic timing makes this production highly entertaining. There’s a lot going on onstage, including a multitude of quick scene changes and even quicker costume changes, all of which could have easily turned into a hot mess if not for the collaborative efforts of a proficient creative team and versatile ensemble.
The payoff is a fast-paced, silly, and self-deprecating (at times) tour de force, which makes for a howling good time.
Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs through April 28th at Raleigh Little Theatre. For more information visit https://raleighlittletheatre.org/.
Photo by Areon Mobasher.