Hellhound of the Baskervilles
By Mark Segal
The East Hampton Star
The Hampton Theatre Company will launch its 35th season at the Quogue Community Hall on Thursday with “Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.” To those familiar with the work of Mr. Ludwig, an Olivier and Tony Award-winning playwright whose work includes “Lend Me a Tenor” and “A Comedy of Tenors,” it will be no surprise that “Baskerville” weaves elements of farce with theatrical ingenuity and a touch of drama.
The play is based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and, like that famous tale, brings Holmes and Watson to England’s foggy moors in search of the supernatural hellhound that has been murdering heirs to the Baskerville fortune. The play departs from the story, however, when Holmes and Watson are faced with a dizzying web of clues, silly accents, disguises, and deceit, thanks to 40 characters who are portrayed by three actors.
“It’s a wild, crazy ride,” said Diana Marbury, the theater’s artistic director and director of this production, who noted that Shakespeare’s own company consisted of 12 to 15 actors who played as many as 35 characters. “So this is sort of a fascinating old-school method of working.” The three protean actors are Andrew Botsford, Tina Jones, and Ben Schnickel. Matthew Conlon (Holmes) and Duncan Hazard (Watson) round out the cast.
“The play is definitely a challenge all the way around,” said Ms. Marbury. “It’s a challenge for the actor, first and foremost, to jump from one character to another within a page and a half, and then it’s a challenge for the director to make sure they are distinguishing each character substantially. And it’s a challenge for the costume designer, who has to make their costumes accessible from one character to another with not much time in between.”
Mr. Ludwig has written almost 30 plays and musicals, including six on Broadway and seven on London’s West End. The Washington Post called “Lend Me a Tenor,” which won two Tonys, “one of the classic comedies of the 20th century.”
“Ken is a very smart playwright,” said Ms. Marbury, “and he has a tremendous background,” including a degree from Harvard, where he studied music with Leonard Bernstein. “When I first suggested ‘Baskerville’ to our artistic committee, everybody kind of hesitated because it was so challenging. I was thrilled to have the opportunity when they decided that we could actually pull this off. And now we’ll see if we can.”
“Baskerville,” which runs through Nov. 10, will be followed in January by “Admissions,” Joshua Harmon’s award-winning satire about what happens when the son of the head of the admissions department at an elite prep school sets his sights on the Ivy League. The collision of progressive values with personal ambition rings true and topical in light of the recent college admissions scandal.
“It’s coincidental for sure,” said Ms. Marbury. “We had talked about doing the play before that scandal broke. But it certainly doesn’t hurt that it’s a timely play. And I’m excited to be acting in it.” The season will also include A.R. Gurney’s “Sylvia” and Lucas Hnath’s “A Doll’s House, Part 2.”
Performances of “Baskerville” will take place on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8, and Sunday afternoons at 2:30, with an additional matinee on Nov. 9. Tickets are $30, $25 for senior citizens (except Saturdays), $20 for those under 35, and $10 for students under 21. Dinner-theater packages will also be available.
East End Theater Review: There’s No Mystery – “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” Is A Winner In Quogue
The Hampton Theatre Company’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery had the audience at the Quogue Community Center laughing, applauding and totally entertained all afternoon during its opening week Sunday matinee. At the end, the audience stood as one and applauded.
Director Diana Marbury successfully tapped into her wealth of knowledge of all things theater and masterfully put together a sophisticated strategy combining amazing versatile acting, set changes, lighting effects, and almost sleight of hand illusionary techniques to make this show move at a fast and exciting pace.
The versatility of this talented small cast was on display all during the performance as the actors changed characters, accents, wigs and costumes in a dizzying array of set changes. The stage crew themselves, led by George Loizides, were stars in this show for their lightning speed and precision in the more than 60 set changes and over 300 cues. In my ten years of reviewing plays, this was the first production where I walked up to the stage after the show to congratulate the stage crew.
All five of the actors are phenomenal. I have been a Matthew Conlon fan for years and again he brought his “A” game as Sherlock Holmes. Matthew owns the Quogue Community Center stage and has a confidence on stage equal to his booming voice and comical nuanced technique.
Duncan Hazard was a consistently likeable and applaudable Dr. Watson. Mr. Hazard has a very wonderful rapport with the audience and a certain stature that is warming.
However, it was the extreme versatility of Andrew Botsford, Ben Schnickel and Tina Jones that launches this production to the highest level of pure entertainment. There is no doubt Ms. Marbury fine-tuned these actors but their combined effort is worthy of some individual praise.
Tina Jones moved around the stage in her many roles bringing forth many of the loudest belly laughs from the audience. Her physical comedic acting skills were on full display as she shined all night long in each of her rolls with a different distinct accented voice used for each character. She even hilariously plays a boy.
Andrew Botsford, a popular Hampton Theatre Company player, was equally game as he too changed rolls, accents, and costumes at lightning speed. His timing delivering punchlines is a gift from god. He is terrific!
Last, but not least, was the performance of Ben Schnickel who perhaps had some of the funniest moments in the whole show. His acting as a painting is without a doubt one of the funniest moments I have ever seen on live stage in my life. The roar of the audience concurred. Kudos and accolades to Ben!
There is no doubt director Diana Marbury used all her talented might in making the actors gags and gag lines hit their marks. She created an entertaining show, a wonderful fun experience for the audience, along with important theatrical moments. I am guessing this is a show you can see a few times and catch a new comedic nuisance you may have missed beforehand. I intend to see it again. How often do you read that in a review?
I must also applaud and mention: Sean Marbury, Set Design and Set Construction; Ebastian Pacyznski, Lighting Design; Diana Marbury, Set Decor; Teresa Lebrun, Costume Design; George A Loizides, Rehearsal Stage Manager, Backstage Crew/Props; Carlene Descalo, Rehearsal Stage Manager; Seamus Naughton, Sound Design; Aaron Levine, Lighting/Sound Tech and Set Construction; Nick Fitzgerald, Backstage Crew and Set Construction; Roger Moley, Projections; Lisa Carr/Sonya Hubbard, Box Office; Joe Pallister, Production Graphics
; Julia Morgan Abrams, House Manager; Tom Kochie, Production Photographer, and Sasha Marbury, Franklin Sengarima, and Peter Vork, Set Construction.
The Hampton Theatre Company’s production of Ken Ludwig’s Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at the Quogue Community Center is a winner.
Shows will be on Thursdays and Fridays at 7 p.m., Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. An additional matinee performance will be offered during the final weekend of the production, on Saturday, November 9, prior to the regular 8 p.m. performance that evening. A talkback with the cast will be offered following the Friday, November 1 at 7 p.m.
The Hampton Theatre Company is offering special dinner and theater packages in collaboration with the Westhampton, Southampton, Hampton Bays and Quogue libraries. A special lunch and theater package is also available for the Saturday matinee on November 9, with lunch before the show at the Quogue Club at the Hallock House.
Tickets are $10 for students, $20 for those under 35-years-old, $25 for seniors, and $30 for adults.
The Hampton Theatre Company is located at 125 Jessup Avenue in Quogue. For reservations and information on all packages and available discounts, visit our Tickets Page.
Opinion: Farce Comes to the Moors
By Kurt Wenzel
The East Hampton Star
The 35th season of Quogue’s Hampton Theatre Company began last week with the opening of “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.”
“Baskerville,” written by Ken Ludwig, is based on the crime novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles” by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. While the novel is a strict detective story, rich with the haunting atmosphere of the English countryside, the play ventures into broad comedy, brought to a frenzied pitch as directed by Diana Marbury.
Plot is mostly secondary in “Baskerville,” the clues and convoluted family ties rattled off so quickly the play is left mostly in the service of comedy. Suffice to say that it begins with a Sir Charles Baskerville found dead on the moor near his home in Devon. Was he murdered, or the victim of a legendary “hellhound” that supposedly haunts the moors? Henry, a Texas tycoon next in line to take over the estate, heads to the Baskerville mansion with Sherlock Holmes and John Watson to solve the mystery.
Matthew Conlon, so good in last year’s hilarious “A Comedy of Tenors,” is perfectly cast here as Sherlock. The actor highlights the detective’s vanity and self-importance, marking himself as the straight man in this farcical production. He plays Sherlock much the same as Conan Doyle wrote him, as brilliant, though almost equally irritating, and doted on by the faithful John Watson (played with tweedy dignity by Duncan Hazard).
The other three actors, Tina Jones, Andrew Botsford, and Ben Schnickel, do much of the heavy lifting in this production, each inhabiting dozens of characters. If not all of them come off, it may be more significant to note that most of them do. Mr. Botsford, who has a penchant in Hampton Theatre productions for playing mealy-mouthed connivers, here does especially well in his portrayal of Henry, a gun-toting Texas rube. And Mr. Schnickel hits his high note as a pretentious Castilian hotel concierge, with an outrageously overwrought wig and mustache.
But when the big laughs come, they are almost always delivered by Tina Jones, who takes on her personas with a rarefied comic gusto. She nails an Irish nurse, a Cockney carriage driver, and an English coquette, among others, with a spritely energy and (to this ear) a flawless verbal technique. The play is most alive when she is onstage.
And it is her turn as Inga, the Baskervilles’ German housemaid, that solicits the most uproarious laughter. Owing a debt perhaps to Teri Garr in “Young Frankenstein,” Inga’s verbal malapropisms — she pronounces her Vs as Ws, for example — are delivered in a starkly imperious German accent, tinged with the perfect amount of hyperbole. Inga appears in just a handful of scenes (you’ll wish there were more), though Ms. Jones is so good in the role it becomes the comic centerpiece of the production.
Also asked to stretch here is Sean Marbury, whose set design has to keep up with a dizzying pace of scene changes. Many of his choices are clever and evocative, often relying on a rear-wall projection to summon a London train station or wind-swept streets, for example. There are gunshots and smoke machines (beware, first row ticketholders), and Sherlock and Watson’s visit to the opera is assembled with a striking economy.
Less successful is Mr. Marbury’s attempt to evoke the stark moors and bogs of Devon, perhaps an impossible task on the stage, but which Conan Doyle used to memorable advantage in the novel — the landscape portrayed with such existential portent that it rose to the level of metaphor.
But then this “Baskerville” is more farce than noir, even if by the play’s end Ms. Marbury lets the slapstick skirt dangerously close to clowning (one actor merely changes hats from one line of dialogue to the next to invoke different characters). Nevertheless, for those who like their comedies loose and broad, “Baskerville” mostly delivers, the performance I witnessed culminating in a partial standing ovation. It seemed, if nothing else, a nod to the stamina of these hard-working actors, and of course the comic bravura of Tina Jones.
The show runs through Nov. 10.