Holmes and Watson are iconic. You’d be hard pressed to find someone unfamiliar with Sir Conan Arthur Doyle’s famous detective duo. Ever since their creation in the nineteen hundreds, the characters have been adapted into different personas and time periods across decades of different media. The characters can take the shape of whatever artistic mold they find themselves in, but paramount to an accurate portrayal is the duo’s signature wit and deductive rapport with one another.
In City Lit’s production of one of Sherlock’s signature cases, The Hound of the Baskervilles, it is highly evident that the company took the care and time required to develop this highly entertaining back and forth. These moments sparkle on stage, easily creating the best moments that make the audience think as much as they laugh. Unfortunately, it is also evident that this attention and care did not go into the other scenes. While the strong leads create the clear highlights of the show, The Hound of the Baskervilles is a largely inconsistent affair.
The case follows the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville. Originally deemed to be a heart attack, a Doctor Mortimer suspects more to the case upon discovery of large, beastly paw prints in close proximity to the body. According to an old legend, a curse runs in the Baskerville family after the late Hugo Baskerville abducted and murdered a woman in the mires of Dartmoor during the English Civil War. Shortly after, Hugo was killed by a huge demonic hound and the beast has been stalking the family ever since. Luckily, Sherlock Holmes is on the case!
As mentioned above, the strongest aspect of this show is the chemistry between the two leads. The cadence and delivery of each of the lines crackle with life as Holmes and Watson apprehend wrong-doers using clever deduction. Fitting together information presented in previous scenes in front of the audience with a healthy dose of humor create highly engaging and entertaining moments; watching the actual case be solved was magic and does justice to the iconic characters. Furthermore, these moments are set against a backdrop of smart set design and fantastic costuming and prop work. The production is not lacking in the slightest when it comes to selling its time and place; City Lit did a fantastic job utilizing its resources to bring the audience along for the ride.
However, the most striking thing about this adaptation is the very noticeable absence of scenes where Holmes and Watson are actually solving the case. For all intents and purposes, the latter half of the first act and the beginning of the second act star Watson as the main character. A surprising amount of time is spent following Watson around the countryside, meeting with the suspects involved in the murder and gathering information. The chemistry in these scenes is lukewarm at best, in harsh contrast to the energy that happens when the leading duo take the stage. I so desperately wanted the suspects to have interesting character composition or Watson to show a new character edge when he strikes out on his own, however these potentially engaging moments never quite happened.
If you can stomach a slower pace in the middle, this production will come recommended. City Lit book-ends its production of The Hound of the Baskervilles with stage chemistry that does justice to the creations of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. It´s all the moments in between that may have you questioning the ticket price. (Ryan Moore)
Somewhat Recommended ★★
The Hound of Baskervilles continues at City Lit Theatre through 11/10. More here.
The Hawk Chicago is included in TheatreInChicago´s Review Round-Up.
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