Black Swamp Players’ “Baskerville” is more about laughs than logic

From left, Eric Simpson as Sherlock Holmes, Christina Hoekstra, Jordan Jarvis, and Lane Hakel in Black Swamp Player's "Baskerville."

 

By DAVID DUPONT

BG Independent News

Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” gives the whodunit a whole new twist.

Figuring out the mystery take a back seat to figuring out what actor will appear where and as what character speaking in what accent.

The cast’s coming and goings, all facilitated by a revolving stage whips up the kind of manic comedy that makes Ludwig’s plays so beloved of community theater troupes, including the Black Swamp Players.

From left. Jordan Jarvis, Ben Forman, and Christina Hoekstra

“Baskerville” opens the Players’ 50th season this weekend. Shows are Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. and Sept. 29 and 30 at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church, 1526 E. Wooster St., Bowling Green. Tickets are $12 and $10 at http://www.blackswampplayers.org or at the door.

That the Players should open their 50th season with this comic take on a classic Sherlock Holmes tale is entirely fitting since Ludwig comedies and a variety of mysteries have been a staple of their seasons. They come together in “Baskerville.”

The play, directed by Kistin Forman, takes the classic tale and surrounds Holmes (Eric Simpson) and his friend Dr. Watson (Lane Hakel) with a cast of  40 zany characters all played by three actors—Christina Hoekstra, Jordan Jarvis, Ben Forman, who also gets credit for the clever set design.

Here the sleuth’s cogitation over the clues is  upstaged by their antics. They bounce from one character to another, sometimes in the same scene.

Forman, at one point, keeps having to switch hats, literally, to play two different people. That also means slipping from a Texas drawl to a crisp English accent. Now I’m usually death on accents on community theater. They often prove more of a distraction than an asset. Here they are half the fun. Hoekstra, Forman, and Jarvis handle the faux Russian, Castilian, Scottish, and several varieties of British accents with aplomb. If there’s an occasional slip that just adds to the comedy.

The script is very aware of what it’s asking the actors to do, and has them at times express exacerbation at the quick changes.

All this occurs on a Lazy Susan spinning stage which takes us from London where Sherlock is ensconced and the bleak moors of the Baskerville estate, where the heirs to the fortune are meeting strange and gruesome deaths.

Is there truth to the legend of an enormous beast, or is some human mischief afoot?

After Sir Charles Baskerville is dispatched early on, the heir, a Texan no less, arrives. One can certainly see the family resemblance, given Forman plays them both. Holmes sends Watson off to the estate with them while he supposedly stays back to work on another case.

While the manic sleuthing usually takes center stage, here Simpson’s Sherlock is the calm eye of the hurricane, at times flabbergasted by such characters as the young rascals Cartwright (Hoekstra) and Milker (Jarvis).

Hoekstra, Jarvis, and Forman create a fine sense of ensemble as three actors asked to do the improbable, and succeeding to hilarious effect.

Hakel’s Watson serves as our level-headed guide. Sherlock arrives on the scene, in disguise no less, to tie up the loose ends after Watson has sussed out the details. Case solved. But not before the sleuth’s logic has been drowned out by the laughter.

 

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