Shrouded in fog, lashed by bitter winds, the gloomy expanse of the Devonshire moors is home to an unexpected mashup of high jinks and dread in the "The Hound of the Baskervilles."
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic mystery is spoofed within an inch of its life in TheatreWorks' wacky new adaptation of the Sherlock Holmes whodunit. Three nimble actors gamely hotfoot it through scads of parts in this zany homage to the Gothic masterpiece.
Steven Canny and John Nicholson have adapted the Victorian thriller into a full-throttle spoof in the manner of "The 39 Steps." This is a campy valentine to the realm of the master sleuth that's amusing, although never quite as hilarious as the tour-de-farce it intends to be. Lovingly directed by Robert Kelley in its regional premiere at TheatreWorks, this amiable if uneven "Hound" satire prowls through April 27.
The game is afoot when Holmes (Ron Campbell) is hired to investigate the curse of the Baskervilles. All of the heirs to the fortune meet an untimely end against the blasted heath of the moors. Legend has it they are being hunted down by a diabolical canine of supernatural origin.
Parody is a tricky business, and despite charismatic turns by Michael Gene Sullivan as the sweetly redoubtable Watson, Darren Bridgett as the imperiled squire of Baskerville and Campbell as the iconic Sherlock, the first act of this Holmes homage drags. The camp feels underpowered, and the puns, especially the homoerotic ones, fall flat.
It's not until the breakneck recap at the top of Act 2 that "Hound" is truly a barking good time. In this delightful bit of tomfoolery, the three actors race through the entire first act at warp speed with dizzying quick changes, slippery accents and wayward props all at the ready. In one particularly deft sight gag, Watson and Baskerville sink into the muck and mire of the moor in fast-forward.
Sullivan, best known for his work with the San Francisco Mime Troupe, gilds the trustworthy sidekick with precisely the right sense of honor and obliviousness. Campbell, a Cirque du Soleil veteran, displays his physical comedy virtuosity flipping between the arch detective, the bug-eyed butler Barrymore and various and sundry femmes. Bridgett is the dashing straight man to most of the antics, although he has a juicy turn as an oddball Scottish peasant.
Once the production finds its pulse, the comic fury of the "Hound" is unleashed. Bawdy double entendres, actors sporting outrageous beards and stagehands wielding fog machines like rapiers attack the stage with unadulterated silliness. From villains in eye patches to slashers on the lam, your powers of deduction will be tested by all manner of skulduggery.
Kelley also carves out some tender moments between the deerstalkered private eye and his sidekick. Indeed, the famed Baker Street detective takes a bit of a back seat to Watson on this adventure, and Sullivan is quite up to the charge. His performance most successfully captures the combination of shtick and insight this "Hound" is hunting. The actor never mocks the wide-eyed, harrumphing Watson, instead tapping into the sense of honor and loyalty that make the character so enduring. For all its goofiness, this lampoon is most effective when it's grounded in sincerity. That may be elementary, but it's also what makes Sullivan's Watson so dear in "Hound."
Adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson from the Sir Arthur Conan Doyle novel, presented by TheatreWorks
Through: April 27
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St.
Running time: 2 hours, one intermission