A madcap mystery is afoot at the Cape Playhouse in Dennis

The Hound of the Baskervilles--more madness than mystery

By Maggie Kulbokas

The always-bowtied Evans Haile, the Cape Playhouse's engaging and popular producing artistic director, took to the stage Monday night to introduce the 86th season of the venerable old dame.  Haile unveiled this summer's season filled with comedy, drama and several musicals. He reminded the audience, many of whom were season ticket holders, of the quality productions the Cape Playhouse features each season and the organization's strong ties to Broadway and beyond. According to Haile, many of the people who have appeared on stage or worked behind the scenes in Dennis were nominated or won at the Tony Awards earlier this week.

The 86th season opened Monday night with The Hound of the Baskervilles, adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's novel (originally serialized in The Strand Magazine from 1901 to 1902) by Steven Canny and John Nicholson.  The story features the intrepid and legendary detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal and able assistant Dr. John Watson.  Sherlock Holmes first appeared in 1887 and was the subject of 56 short stories and four novels by Conan Doyle. 

Left to right: Jonathan Brody as Dr. Watson, Greg Jackson as Dr. Mortimer and Dan Domingues as Sherlock Holmes. Photo credit: Kathleen A. Fahle.Holmes' popularity has remained through the decades and his exclamation of "elementary" and his trademark cap and cape are synonymous with detection and deductive reasoning.  There has been a resurgence of interest in Sherlock Holmes from the recent blockbusters starring Robert Downey Jr., to the modern BBC adaptation of Sherlock and coming to network television this fall, an American re-envisioning starring Lucy Lui as Watson.

Canny and Nicholson's version of The Hound of the Baskervilles is heavy on slapstick and light on suspense.  This Vaudevillian interpretation stars Jonathan Brody, Dan Domingues and Greg Jackson in a a variety of roles--with the three actors adeptly filling the stage with larger-than-life characters.

One doesn't often think of comedy with one's murder and mayhem, but director Mark Shanahan makes it work in the vein of such films as Murder by Death and Clue.  He did the same when he directed last year's serial killer comedy (sounds weird, but it worked) No Way to Treat a Lady and The 39 Steps the year before, both on the Cape Playhouse stage.

The Hound of the Baskervilles is a story of seemingly supernatural suspense--a demon dog, a family curse, the mysterious moors, where nothing good ever seems to happen.  The story opens with Dr. Mortimer, the friend of the recently deceased Sir Charles Baskerville, asking for Sherlock's help in ending the family curse. After meeting with Sir Henry Baskerville the heir to the Baskerville estate and the hound's most likely next victim, in London, Holmes is intrigued and sends Dr. Watson ahead to watch over Henry and collect clues in his absence.

When they arrive in Dartmoor, Henry and Watson make the acquaintance of a bevvy of kooky characters--from the local Scots to the suspicious naturalist Stapleton, his sultry sister Cecile and the Barrymores, the shifty servants of Basekerville Hall.

As with most mysteries, comedic or not, the story relies on innuendo, misunderstanding and slight of hand. Comedy only adds to the stew bringing a heaping helping of slapstick and a dash of double entendre.

Canny and Nicholson's version is clever and quick and extraordinarily fast-paced--even more than you can imagine, but we won't give it away.

Jonathan Brody (Watson), Dan Domingues (Holmes) and Greg Jackson (Sir Henry Baskerville) are to the live stage like fish to water. They worked seamlessly together, bringing to life their primary characters and a slew of others thanks to fast and functional custom designs by Patricia Doherty.

Minimal scenery and props by Hugh Landwehr quickly transformed Holme's home to a train station, then into the foggy moors and finally Baskerville Hall in a blink of an eye.

Some clever modern day gimmicks made the audience laugh out loud and the often odd relationship between Holmes and Watson allowed for some funny and over the top jokes ala the Bird Cage.

If you need to forget it all and just laugh (and who doesn't?) lose yourself in The Hound of the Baskervilles now through June 23.  While you are at it, consider season tickets because you won't want to miss the rest of the season including Ain't Misbehavin', Legally Blonde - The Musical and Nunsense.  

The Cape Playhouse is located at 820 Route 6A in Dennis Village.  Visit the box office online or call 508-385-3911 for reservations. Coming up next: "As Bees in Honey Drown".

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