PRINCETON -- 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 himself, from Benedict Cumberbatch's fast-talking reincarnation of the famous detective in the BBC's Sherlock, and from Jonny Lee Miller's intense, neurotic portrayal in CBS's Elementary, the whole point of Sherlock Holmes is that he is super smart. So how did he wind up in this dopey play?
The familiar plotline is far-fetched and involves a monstrous dog, English moors, and isolated country mansions. There is a fortune to be inherited, there are dastardly deeds, complicated fake identities, and murder. Ludwig (best known for Lend Me a Tenor) sticks to the original narrative, and the dialogue lumbers along to the predictable conclusion.
The actors provide split-second timing, accents, weird noises, and energetic action. But Gregory Wooddell plays Sherlock with too little elan and Lucas Hall is a tepid Dr. Watson. All the other characters are played by Michael Glenn, Jane Pfitsch, and the crowd-pleasing Stanley Bahorek.
The real pleasure of this production, co-produced by Princeton's McCarter Theatre and Arena Stage in Washington, 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), catching hats and butterfly nets in midair.
The props and fancy uses of McCarter's stage apparatus (set designed by Daniel Ostling) are the pieces de resistance: Flowers fall from the ceiling and land upright, creating an instant garden; trapdoors open, and chairs roll in by themselves ("Have a seat"). But props do not a play make.
Through March 29 at the McCarter Theatre, 91 University Place, Princeton.