On a trip to Phoenix, AZ, my family stopped at the Phoenix Theatre to see Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery. A stage play on the story of Sherlock Holme’s The Hounds of the Baskerville. A folk tale of a giant hound lurks in the shadows as Watson and Holmes work to solve the murder of Sir Charles Baskerville. His ridiculous nephew, Sir Henry of Texas, comes to inherit the estate, but Watson keeps a close eye on him to watch for any suspicious activity. Henry falls in love with the neighbor, and her weak brother has a fit. As the detective work together to uncover the mystery, the audience is prodded to laugh along the way.
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
Besides Sherlock and Watson, the rest of the cast was made up of two men and a woman. They danced into every other supporting role—sometimes showing up still changing or forgetting to change for the right character. This casting sets the precedent for the show; a slapstick, over the top play reaching to the outer limits of ridiculous acting to get a laugh. A sequence where the actors were caught in a wind storm was quite amazing—moving their clothes and bodies as if the wind would truly sweep them away. Other moments pushed in a way that didn’t work. Many times I stopped to think, is this just bad acting? Every time a new character emerged, a new accent and mannerism surfaced. It was enjoyable to see these actors take on such a project, and they did it with true talent and energy. The actors traditionally performed in musicals, so they had that spunk and grandeur needed for a musical. However, the styling often felt forced. It was hard to get caught up in the story because I was frequently reminded that this was an actor playing a Spanish bell hop or a dawdling school boy.
I find this line to be very hard to play; we are either portraying a ridiculous world with ridiculous people or just using bad over acting. A strong performance that pulls on the absurd knows when to hold back. This character is very real to him. This character is silly because that is what makes the person. On the other hand, in this play, each character was more of a prop for the story to introduce some plot line and have a laugh. They do not feel like real people, but are instead just one dimensional crazy motions. One genuine character that has exaggerated moments is much more effective than a whole cast of half generated players. Otherwise, it can be overwhelming to experience this all at once.
Clearly, these were very talented actors who did an amazing job jumping between characters—they carried the show in a lovely and energetic way. They had great skill. I think they were just pushed a little too far by their director. But maybe that’s what this show needed to keep clipping along.
When is it okay to push the boundaries of realistic characters and when do you want to see some ridiculous performances?