Theater / Performance

The Hound of the Baskervilles (Curio Theatre Company, 16May13)

What they say it is:

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s most celebrated Sherlock Holmes story gets a gloriously funny makeover by three actors who portray more than a dozen characters. This meta-theatrical spoof is a “deliberately tatty affair” repleate with air violin, saunas and a desperately inaccurate Canadian accent – something Sir Arthur Ignatius Conan Doyle would definitely not have approved of. C’est la vie!

 NEW Clay Says graphic Ernie

(Note to current readers: minor staging spoilers ahead)

When faced with a description such as the one above, one might be forgiven for going into this presentation with a bit of hesitation.  Thankfully, we’ve had some incredible experiences at the Curio Theatre in the past (seriously, this tiny group puts on truly amazing, memorable shows) so I had no problem ‘taking a chance’ on this openly non-traditional staging of the classic detective story.

If you only have time for the nutshell summary, here it is: the hardworking cast of Curio has put together yet another “must see” production.  I was, however, underprepared for exactly how unusual—and how imaginatively funny—this rewrite of Baskerville turned out to be.

NEW Tara Says GraphicTARA REPLIES TO CLAYWe have a love affair with Curio.  Any production company that can aptly handle Shakespeare as well as original, super funny, classy comedies is OK by me.  Please support this company, they are quite deserving.  Go see this show.  It is still running and well worth your time and money!

In honesty, no faithful, plodding rendition could have pleased me as much as this hilarious, comedic  revision.  With only 3 primary actors playing all of the roles (plus occasional appearances by a sound-effects specialist), this is anything but serious theater.  The show stays, well, kind of faithful to the source material, but is, in reality, a spot-on, hyper-enthusiastic transmutation of the gothic-flavored detective story into a Monty Python-style sendup.  The men play men.  The men play women.  The men play several roles, sometimes all in the same scene, and sometimes at the same time.  Props flip and turn mid-scene at the hands of these same hardworking actors.  Special effects keep the visual aspect lively (a hovering candle and flashes of stage lightning create appropriate tones of ghostly haunting), but any attempts at seriousness are always undercut by low-budget revelry (an overlarge Casio keyboard visits the stage for sound embellishments, an actor becomes a “portrait” by holding a frame in front of his face).  One of the many great, goofy moments comes when, in the penultimate scene of the show, fog sweeps across the moor…  fog, that is, as puffs of cotton, thrown by the handful into the air, “blinding” the actors and covering the floor in a goofy, ever-increasing mess of discarded props.

NEW Tara Says GraphicTara replies to Clay:  There was a goodly amount of “fake travel”–walking and running around the stage, in spite of the room’s small area–but all of this was very, very well done to accommodate for transition scenes.

Outlandish and seriously funny (picture from Curio Theatre's website)

Outlandish and seriously funny (picture from Curio Theatre’s website)

The three players (Steve Carpenter, CJ Keller, and Harry Slack) are familiar faces to Curio, and all welcome returns.  I’ve formerly seen Mr. Carpenter in Curio’s Slaughterhouse 5, and both Mr. Keller as well as Mr. Slack in Accidental Death of an Anarchist, Eurydice, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  I’m happy to report that this trio have truly found their calling as a group of comedic actors—of their collective resume, I’d say that Baskervilles is the best comedy they’ve played, matched only perhaps by the hilarious Anarchist show from a couple years ago.  It’s a mark of Curio’s genuine commitment to community theater that they continue to employ a consistent cast of young, recurring actors—I’ve had the good fortune to watch several of their regulars honing and improving their craft over the course of the last several years, and can happily say that  Baskerville demonstrates how  timing and showmanship can improve in a group over time.   The show relies heavily on quick dialog and witty rejoinder—best rendered when a troupe knows each other well, and can relax into truly funny, comfortable goofiness.  This practiced chemistry was no more evident than in the show’s most excellent, challenging scene—the opening of the second act is a lightning-fast reenactment of the entire first act—a feat that leaves the three actors panting and breathless as they race through an hour’s highlights in less than 5 minutes.  Just awesome.

Enjoy the awesome quality of this non-iPhone photo.

Enjoy the awesome quality of this non-iPhone photo.

NEW Tara Says GraphicTara replies to Clay:  Harry Slack has such a sweet disposition in the play . . . there is an innocence about his character and his antics that are all quite endearing.  Steve Carpenter:  Kudos on the top of the second act . . . I don’t want to give any unnecessary spoilers . . . but I’d advise all potential audience members–don’t be late returning from intermission.  CJ- this is the man who keeps the ship on course and provides an excellent play introduction at the top of the show.  Well done.

Honestly, the show was such an awesome experience of non-stop comedy, I could sit here listing excellent memory after memory.  Suffice it to say, this two-hour production reminded me of one of the thumbnail rules of theater: you know it’s a good show when you don’t notice the time passing, or don’t want it to end.  The pacing was perfect, the comic timing was spot on, and quite honestly, I can only give this show my highest stamp of approval.  Curio does quite a lot of good on a small budget and in a relatively smaller space (the newly renovated downstairs theater seats approximately 60 in a cozy, charming room), achieving much more than one might expect from a local, lesser-known troupe.  Curio is truly an asset to West Philadelphia, and I can only encourage our readers to make the time to catch any of their shows.  Especially this one.

NEW Tara Says GraphicTara replies to Clay: Couldn’t agree more with Clay’s comments.  We had an excellent night out.  We were very excited to see Curio in their new downstairs space in the Calvary Church and we highly recommend that everyone should see this show!  Hey blog readers, let’s make it so popular that they have to extend the run!  We challenge you!  Maybe we will even consider reimbursing some of your ticket price if you didn’t have a great time or laugh……….

Clay replies to Tara: You didn’t clear that last part with me.  We need to talk.

Hound of the Baskervilles runs until June 1 in Curio’s West Philadelphia theater.

from Curio Theatre's website

from Curio Theatre’s website



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