by Chelsey Wade
Black Box Theater, at Pima Community College’s Center for the Arts, presents Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery by Ken Ludwig.
This story follows Sherlock Holmes, played by Etienne Wegryzniak, and Dr. Watson, played by Ciel McNulty, as they solve the mysterious case of Baskerville. Set in London, the mystery-solving duo set out to find out who murdered Sir Charles, uncle of the Baskerville heir. Initially, they have little to go on except a bitten cane that seems to have been dragged through the mud. Could this be the work of the fabled Baskerville hounds? Or is there more going on in the dark, hidden woods near the city of Baskerville?
The director, Chris Will, did a fine job of staging the actors to utilize the full theater space. Throughout the play, action alternates with scenes taking place in various parts of the theater. It made for a visually interesting aspect of the performance to follow the movement between the main floor, the sides, and top of the arena. While the action felt a little slow at the beginning of certain scenes, overall, the pace picked up and was fairly steady throughout the two and a half hour play. There were some confusing moments, particularly when actors would break character or play multiple characters in the same scene. Still, it was ultimately effective in coming across as humorous. Some actors would physically change their hats and this, as well as pacing, had a lot to do with effectiveness.
Will selected a diverse cast for this play. Several of the male characters are played by females, including the role of Watson, Cartwright, and “Man in Black Beard.” Brandon Saxon in the role of Mrs. Hudson created an extra touch of comedy through the high-pitched tones of Holmes’ landlady. Strong, believable chemistry flowed among the actors consistently and pleasantly through their quick dialogue. The equality in this play, in terms of casting, was excellent. It broke out of the form one might expect in only seeing a man playing a male character on stage, and vice versa. Specifically, casting a female lead for Watson’s character gives a different lens in viewing well-known characters. This kind of brave choice in casting also allows more gender equality on the stage, addressing female and male artists in a way that reflects back on the actor’s talents.
The actors often break from the traditional framework of the story to add humor in other parts of the play. Unexpected bits of comedy throughout serve to remind the audience that we are watching the world of a play, one that can adhere to the traditions of a script and also veer off from it in the name of comedy (and relevance, in one instance of commentary about Mr. Trump). Even though this play is being performed in the closing months of 2019, it reminded me of the timelessness of the Holmes’ stories. Writer Sir Arthur Conan Doyle first penned The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes in the late 1800s; the stories continue to be adapted and told to stay relevant. That in itself speaks to the power of creating strong, dynamic characters in literature.
The costumes, designed by Kaylee Johnson, and the actor’s British accents, immersed the audience in 20th century London. The clock tower set up behind Sherlock’s desk also added to the plausibility of environment. One of the most intense moments early on was the unveiling of Baskerville Hall. The striking music and shadowy lighting added to the drama of reaching a place that held such significance to the case.
Ultimately, this play was fun to watch, with some dark moments of the mystery, but stayed light-hearted by the humor scattered throughout each scene. Anyone who shares Sherlock’s admiration for the opera as a means to escape the routine of day-to-day life in order to be moved by performance art can also appreciate this piece of student orchestrated theater.
Were there some strange elements to this play? Sure. But then again, this is a Sherlock Holmes story. I would expect a few surprises from the mystery solvers from Baker Street. Half the point of watching a mystery play and the drama unfolding is to watch the characters solve the mystery. But finding out the answer isn’t the whole point at all. It’s a delightful paradox to take part in.
Tickets are available online through Pima’s website, with a link to their 3rd party
“Vendini” ticket- purchasing website. Tickets are $10 for PCC students and $17 for general admission. The play runs until November 17th.