This 'Baskerville' is much more than elementary

In “Baskerville,” Ken Ludwig’s hilarious pastiche of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” the game is afoot in a fast-paced, supremely satisfying and entertaining production at Oregon Cabaret Theatre that defies the limits of time and stage space.

“The Hound of the Baskervilles” was Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s third novel featuring Sherlock Holmes, bringing the investigator back to life and into print in 1901. The novel was adapted for film several times, most memorably in the 1939 film directed by Sidney Lanfield and produced by Darryl Zanuck, starring Richard Green and Basil Rathbone as Watson and Holmes.

That first film is anything but funny. It’s deadly serious, a black-and-white Sherlockian investigation into a mysterious death out on the moors of Devonshire where a supernatural hound stalks the Baskerville heirs, and kills them.

The 1939 production is, kind of, what we see on stage at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre. We meet Sherlock Holmes, the greatest detective the world has ever known, and Dr. Watson, his sidekick. We see what critics have called the birth of the horror genre in the desolate, fog-hidden landscape, with screams and howls in the night. There are flashbacks, jump cuts, narratives and monologues that are acted out off center of the stage. But think of all this within a comedic framework, a tall, narrow stage and superbly talented and dynamic performers who can change accent, wigs and props in a split second, and you get “Baskerville.”

Holmes and Watson, respectively played by Matt Koenig and Galen Schloming, are true to character throughout. Their roles are set by rational tradition and are ably filled, but they are relatively minor characters in this production. Stephen Kline, Tony Carter and Mia Mekjian, billed as Actor 1, Actor 2 and Actress 3, respectively, play multiple roles with extraordinary energy, and their quirky quick changes steal the show.

The trio play more than a dozen characters — well, to tell you the truth, I lost count — that demand physical stunts and comedic timing. Stephen Kline's talent shines with manic silliness. Whether Kline is Dr. Mortimer or he’s become a portrait on the wall, a Latin hotelier, a convict wandering the moors, the Quasimodic Mr. Barrymore or the weird Mr. Stapleton, you can be assured of excellent performances no matter the mustache or hat.

Rick Robinson, who directs Oregon Cabaret Theater’s fall production, has helped create a masterpiece unlike other “Baskerville” productions, thanks to set designer DeAnne Kennedy, prop designer Andrew Bangs and crew. The tall, narrow stage of what once was the altar and sacristy of First Baptist Church calls for a vertical set, and Baskerville’s is ingenious.

The set engages the entire audience and is tall enough to include even those sitting in the second level mezzanine, the former choir lofts. Large, mobile steps, boxes and panels on different levels, doors and collapsible tables allow action to move between three or four levels and require the performers to make heroic leaps and bounds. The actors move pieces throughout the performance as one scene shifts to the next, and how they do that when they also need to make costume, wig and prop changes is a wonder.

If all that isn’t enough, the performance is not limited to the stage, and on and off stage happens everywhere in the theater, so expect characters to run right past you, appear on the balcony without notice, hide behind you and swoop about with a butterfly net seeking the rare Blue Cyclops.

When you step into the Oregon Cabaret Theatre to see “Baskerville,” you’re stepping right up into 221b Baker Street, with Conan Doyle’s forensic methods, sophisticated humor and penny dreadful guiles. Enjoy the Sherlockian clues and modern comedy of this adaptation of “Hound of the Baskervilles,” and when you have eliminated the impossible in the performance, whatever remains, however improbable, must be true. That’s Rick Robinson’s “Baskerville” at the Oregon Cabaret Theatre.

The Oregon Cabaret Theatre’s production of “Baskerville” opened last week and runs through Nov. 5. Performances are Wednesday-Saturday and Monday at 8 p.m., and at 1 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; themed menus and specialty cocktails are available. The play is suitable for all ages and runs about two hours with a 20-minute intermission. Tickets are $22 to $36 or by subscription and are available online at theoregoncaberet.com, by calling 541-488-2902 or at the box office, 241 Hargadine St., Ashland.

— Maureen Flanagan Battistella is a freelance writer in Ashland, Oregon and can be reached at mbattistellaor@gmail.com

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