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Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery

Arthur Conan Doyle's famous sleuth looks to solve an impossible case.

Jane Pfitsch and Stanley Bahorek flank Gregory Wooddell as Sherlock Holmes in Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, directed by Amanda Dehnert, at Washington, D.C.'s Arena Stage.
(© Margot Schulman)

Sherlock Holmes is one of the most interesting and iconic literary characters of the late 19th century, so there's no mystery as to why the fictional London detective has been a fixture in movies and on television and the stage. Playwright Ken Ludwig, who already scored a hit with Holmes in 2012's comic play The Game's Afoot, tackles Scotland Yard's most infamous resident again with the world premiere of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, now playing at Arena Stage. Once more, Ludwig shows that Holmes can be comedy gold.

The show follows the events surrounding the death of Charles Baskerville, who was mysteriously murdered on the moors of his ancestral home. Dr. John Mortimer (Stanley Bahorek) wants answers and goes to visit Sherlock Holmes (Gregory Wooddell) for help. It's revealed that the House of Baskerville lies under a legendary curse involving a Hell Hound, and it's up to Holmes and Dr. Watson (Lucas Hall) to save the day. The play evolves as a mystery thriller, as one tantalizing clue leads to another — but hilarity ensues at every stop.

From his very first utterance of "Elementary, my dear Watson," Wooddell personifies the popular image of the famous sleuth, and even amid the comedy, he finds deep emotional layers that have always defined Sherlock Holmes. As Dr. Watson, Lucas Hall gets to delve into more of the comic elements of the show, and his timing is near-perfect, igniting some of the show's best laughs. However, the duo are slightly upstaged by their supporting cast of three: the hilarious Michael Glenn, the unflappable Stanley Bahorek, and the incredible Jane Pfitsch — each of whom takes on more than a dozen characters. There's barely a scene that they are not in (sometimes playing multiple roles). Their lightning-quick changes into myriad different characters and a host of accents keep the show moving at a fast pace that's highly entertaining.

Director Amanda Dehnert had her hands full, making sure the comedy didn't overshadow the plot. She deftly keeps the quick changes and inspired prop devices from becoming a distraction. The show is choreographed within an inch of its life, and its pace is perfection. Ludwig is a genius with words, and his script is lovingly embraced by the cast of five under Dehnert's tight direction.

The show's success can also be attributed to the creativity of Daniel Ostling's set design, which utilized unique trapdoors, inventive ways to bring in props (such as falling flowers), and a never-ending sea of imagination. Costume designer Jess Goldstein should also be commended for not only reflecting the time period perfectly, but allowing for the quick changes that are essential to the show's success.

An array of lights is pointed at the stage in every direction imaginable, and this seemingly overwhelming lighting design is used to great effect by Philip S. Rosenberg, who enhances the scenes by playing with the nuances of each light source, like when a stormy night is required.

Of course there have been some fun and successful whodunits onstage before, but Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery finds the perfect mix of slapstick and thrills. It's a fresh and comedic take on one of the world's most famous sleuths as he solves one of his greatest mysteries.