Theatrical Outfit’s forced ‘Baskerville’ spoof falls flat

John Keabler (left) plays Sherlock Holmes opposite Lala Cochran as Dr. Watson in the farcical mystery "Baskerville," continuing through Dec. 19 at Theatrical Outfit.
Courtesy of Casey Ford Photography
Caption
John Keabler (left) plays Sherlock Holmes opposite Lala Cochran as Dr. Watson in the farcical mystery "Baskerville," continuing through Dec. 19 at Theatrical Outfit. Courtesy of Casey Ford Photography

Credit: Casey Ford Photography

Credit: Casey Ford Photography

“Baskerville,” a stage version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1902 novel “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” is subtitled “A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” even though the legendary sleuth turns out to be a largely incidental character in the story. Curiously, too, it’s adapted by the popular farceur Ken Ludwig (“Lend Me a Tenor,” “Moon Over Buffalo”), which suggests that the parody should be a lot funnier and livelier than it ends up being in director Shannon Eubanks’ dull and plodding production for Theatrical Outfit.

John Keabler, a likable newcomer to the local theater scene, portrays the secondary role of Holmes, while seasoned Atlanta actress Lala Cochran (in male drag) takes the lead as his sidekick, Dr. Watson, who serves as the show’s narrator. By lowering her voice slightly, and generally playing it straight, her Watson is a far cry from the bumbling buffoon made famous by Nigel Bruce in a series of 1940s movies opposite Basil Rathbone’s Holmes.

Not that “Baskerville” is lacking in bumbling or buffoonish antics. Most of those fall to an ensemble of three other performers in a variety of quick-changing, over-the-top character bits (heavy on the thick, affected accents): Robin Bloodworth, Gina Rickicki and Kathryn Tkel.

The mysterious tale begins in the dark, foreboding woods surrounding the country estate of Sir Charles Baskerville, an English aristocrat whose violent death seems to support a local superstition that the family is cursed by a supernatural “demon hound.” Enter Sherlock Holmes — or, more precisely, Dr. Watson — to investigate.

The plot thickens with the arrival of the Baskerville heir, Henry (Tkel), reimagined for Ludwig’s purposes as a Texas cowboy. Among an assortment of shady suspects that Watson and Henry encounter are Baskerville Hall’s bizarre butler, Barrymore (Bloodworth), and his equally weird wife (Rickicki), as well as a neighboring “naturalist” and his secretive sister, Jack and Beryl Stapleton (Bloodworth and Rickicki again).

Caption
Theatrical Outfit's farcical mystery "Baskerville" features Lala Cochran (from left), Robin Bloodworth and John Keabler. Courtesy of Casey Ford Photography

Credit: Casey Ford Photography

Theatrical Outfit's farcical mystery "Baskerville" features Lala Cochran (from left), Robin Bloodworth and John Keabler.
Courtesy of Casey Ford Photography
Caption
Theatrical Outfit's farcical mystery "Baskerville" features Lala Cochran (from left), Robin Bloodworth and John Keabler. Courtesy of Casey Ford Photography

Credit: Casey Ford Photography

Credit: Casey Ford Photography

Whatever “feverish quality” or “web of intricacies” it is that initially piques Holmes’ interest in the Baskerville mystery — presumably the “greatest and most dangerous case of his entire career,” according to Watson — it never really manifests in the Outfit’s “Baskerville.” In chronicling Holmes’ exploits for the audience, Watson’s recollections mainly come across in the form of so much talky exposition and so many static reenactments thereof.

Marie Quintero’s Edwardian-era costumes are nice, but director Eubanks’ production values are otherwise negligible. Mary Parker’s lighting and James Bigbee Garver’s sound are adequate, but Stephanie Busing’s scant scenic design is particularly bereft of period atmosphere or detail.

The biggest disappointment about the show is how funny it isn’t, and the harder the cast tries, the more desperate it seems. A couple of running gags, for instance, fall flat: the melodramatic flourish of muted music that sounds at every mention of the Grimpen Mire (a la the Frau Blucher/whinnying horses routine from “Young Frankenstein”); or when Watson and Holmes recap all of the play’s preceding events, requiring the other three actors to rapidly switch from one character’s getup to another’s.

When the two sleuths finally deduce that the danger of the Baskerville legend is something “not to be laughed at,” they don’t realize just how right they are.


THEATER REVIEW

“Baskerville”

Through Dec. 19. 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (Nov. 24 only); 7:30 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays (excluding Nov. 25 and 26); 2:30 and 7:30 p.m. Saturdays; 2:30 p.m. Sundays. $47.70 ($42.40 for seniors, $15.90 for students). Balzer Theater at Herren’s, 84 Luckie St. NW, Atlanta. 678-528-1500. www.theatricaloutfit.org.

Bottom line: A farcical thriller that misses the mark on both counts.