Take three inventive actors, trunks full of costumes, and a well-known story from the Sherlock Holmes canon, season liberally with Monty Python-esque humor, lace with a good dose of metatheatrical self-parody, whip it all into an energetic concoction of not-quite horror and suspense, and what have you got? The zany, playful, and at times downright silly Kinetic Theatre Company production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, currently running at Pittsburgh Playwrights Theatre.
The script, by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, roughly traces the contours of the Arthur Conan Doyle tale – there’s the mystery of whether or not a demonic hound is stalking the moors, chasing to their deaths successive generations of Baskerville heirs (all played by Connor McCanlus), solved, in nearly proper deductive fashion, by the “world’s greatest detective,” Sherlock Holmes (David Whalen). But not before Dr. Watson (James FitzGerald) – who’s hardly the brightest bulb on the tree – repeatedly mucks things up through a combination of carelessness, inattention, and downright befuddlement.
The three actors populate the stage with a dizzying array of colorful be-wigged, be-bearded, and be-hatted characters who zip on and off stage with frenetic energy; at times, they also play themselves (or some version of themselves) spooked by theatrical superstition and egging each other on. It’s all a bit chaotic, and it’s hard to see much connection between the play’s metatheatrical scenes and the Sherlock Holmes story, but there’s no point in being a killjoy and trying to find method in the madness. Director Andrew Paul proves himself an observant student of the Flying Circus, staging all matter of verbal and visual gag with deadpan seriousness, and his ensemble is fully up to the task. Whalen offers a nudge-nudge wink-wink parody of his own self-absorbed Sherlock, and also plays multiple other roles, including an eye-patched villain, the villain’s Spanish (or is it Italian?) wife, a mysterious bearded butler, and the butler’s daffy wife. McCanlus is suitably goofy as the “Canadian” Henry Baskerville (who speaks, unaccountably, with a Minnesota twang), and FitzGerald’s Dr. Watson is delightfully batty.
Horror is promised at the beginning of this show, but if you want to be scared, you’re in for a disappointment; if you’re looking for a couple of hours of frothy fun, Hound of the Baskervilles won’t let you down.