By Toby Zinman
For the Inquirer
Ken Ludwig's new comedy is a farcical treatment of the most famous of the Sherlock Holmes stories: "The Hound of the Baskervilles." As we know from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle' s stories, from Benedict Cumberbatch's fast-talking reincarnation of the famous detective in TV's Sherlock and from Johnny Lee Miller's intense and neurotic portrayal in Elementary, another TV series,the whole point of Sherlock Holmes is that he is supersmart. So how did he wind up in this dopey play?
The familiar plotline is farfetched and involves a monster dog, English moors, and isolated country mansions. There is a fortune to be inherited, there are dastardly deeds, complicated fake identities and murder. Ludwig sticks to the original narrative, and the dialogue lumbers along to the predictable conclusion.
The pleasure of this production, co-produced with Arena Stage in Washington D.C., and directed by Amanda Dehnert, is all in the theatrical paraphernalia. With a stunning array of 92 spotlights and 16 footlights, the inevitable dark and stormy night is spectacular (lighting designed by Philip S. Rosenberg), and with five actors playing many many roles, the costume changes are a running gag as actors dash on and off stage (costumes designed by Jess Goldstein), catch hats and butterfly nets in midair.
But the props and the fancy uses of McCarter's stage apparatus (set designed by Daniel Ostling) are the piece de resistance: flowers fall from the ceiling and land upright, creating an instant garden; trapdoors open and chairs chairs roll in by themselves ("Have a seat.") But props do not a play make.
The actors provide split-second timing, accents, weird noises, and energetic action. Gregory Wooddell plays Sherlock with too little elan, Lucas Hall is a tepid Dr. Watson, and all the other characters are played by Michael Glenn, Jane Pfitsch, and the crowd-pleasing favorite, Stanley Bahorek.
Where is Moriarty when you really need him?
McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton, NJ. Through March 29. Tickets $25-87. Information: mccarter.org or (609) 258-2787