A murderer is on the loose while a hellhound rampages on the moor, but fear not! The world's most famous detective is on the case, and the game is afoot in Clackamas Repertory Theatre's production of "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery," opening on June 29 in the Niemeyer Center at Clackamas Community College.
Characters, action, mystery
Holmes aficionados will enjoy this production, said director David Smith-English, the artistic director of CRT.
"Baskerville," by Ken Ludwig, is a comedic retelling of "The Hound of the Baskervilles," the classic Sherlock Holmes mystery written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. In Ludwig's version, three actors play nearly 40 supporting characters to the leads, Holmes and Dr. Watson.
The plot revolves around someone wanting to kill Sir Henry Baskerville, who inherited a large fortune when Sir Charles Baskerville was killed in mysterious circumstances. At the same time, a hellhound is said to be haunting the moors.
"I'm fascinated with Sherlock Holmes, and we found Ken Ludwig's [play], and he is a wonderful comedy writer. I was impressed by how true he was to the story," Smith-English said.
With all the action moving so quickly, "we don't have time to change sets, so we have worked on how to tell this story with minimal scenery and have it be believable," he said.
Orrie Weeks and Annie Rimmer have created scenic projections to help the audience adapt to set changes, and new costumer Sheneka Telles has explored ways to help the supporting actors through rapid costume changes, Smith-English noted.
Audiences will like the production, he added, because there will be "lots of music and sound effects, along with the fun of solving the mystery."
Sherlock and Watson
John San Nicolas, who plays Holmes, describes his character as "eccentric, mercurial and anti-social."
He added, "He has a flair for the dramatic and has this superhuman ability to sort of always be right. He plays up his ability to make deductions; it's almost like a Jedi mind trick."
People should come and see the show, San Nicolas said, "To have a good time and to see a tried and true mystery tale."
This will be the first time San Nicholas has worked with CRT, although he is well known to Portland audiences, having appeared in every major venue in the city. He is a resident artist at Artists Repertory Theatre, where he has performed in 10 shows.
Watson is played by Dennis Kelly, who said his character looks up to Holmes and thinks he is the greatest man he has ever known.
"He is excited by the chase, is very positive and willing to be in the adventure," Kelly said.
Audiences will enjoy the pace of the show and the integration of all the different elements, like the scenery projections, costumes and action, he added.
Three actors, 40 characters
Jayne Stevens, Alex Fox and Mark Schwahn play all the other roles in "Baskerville," sometimes even changing costumes and characters right in front of the audience.
Stevens, the managing director of CRT, is the only female cast member, so plays most of the female characters, as well as a young boy named Cartwright.
To make all of her 14 characters distinctive, Stevens found that she needed to "establish a walk; that is the best way to tell the audience that this person is different."
Creating various dialects can be a challenge, but said that doing so "reminds you who you are and keeps you grounded."
The most fun aspect for her has been "working with the other actors and the ensemble aspect of the process."
Fox also plays 14 roles; of those, his favorite character is Stapleton, who lives near Baskerville Manor.
"He is eccentric and prone to long monologues, some [delivered with] a sense of menace," he said, noting that many of the characters are suspected of being the murderer.
Audiences will be surprised by "all the weird characters that pop out of everywhere," Fox added.
Schwahn has it a bit easier than his two colleagues, playing only seven different roles in the show.
His favorite character is Sir Henry, the heir to the Baskerville fortune who is from Texas.
"[He's] the only American character in the show, [and so] the author has a lot of fun with his aggressive good-naturedness and naive misunderstanding of British culture," Schwahn said.
"Like the stereotypical American, he is loud, overly familiar, and doesn't even try to abide by local customs. But at heart he's a really sweet guy, who likes just about everybody and who just can't figure out why anyone would want to kill him," he added.
Audiences will "love the theatricality of the show; watching the actors crazily changing costumes and characters, watching the scenery flash on the screen and spin around the stage," he said.
And, Schwahn added, it will all be happening "within a really exciting and suspenseful murder mystery story."
Clackamas Repertory Theatre is now an equity house, noted Cynthia Smith-English, executive director of CRT.
That means that CRT has signed a six-year, small professional theater contract with the Actors Equity Union.
"We want to hire the best actors in town and wanted them to be willing to drive out here," she said.
The actors will gradually be paid more as the six years progress, and they will be eligible for health insurance. At the end of the six-year period, all the actors will accrue equity points, even if they are not union members.
"We decided to step up and do the union thing, and the time seemed right," Smith-English added.
Follow the clues!
What: Clackamas Repertory Theatre presents Ken Ludwig's "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery"
When: June 29 to July 23 at 7:30 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and at 2:30 p.m. on Sundays
Where: The Osterman Theatre in the Niemeyer Center at Clackamas Community College, S. Douglas Loop, in Oregon City.
For reservations and more information, call 503-594-6047 or visit clackamasrep.org.
Coming up: "The Melody Lingers On with songs by Irving Berlin," Aug. 3 to 27; and "Tigers Be Still," by Kim Rosenstock, Sept. 7 to Oct. 1.