Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson have been played by thousands of different actors during the past century, in versions that range from semi-serious to campy comedy.
The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival’s production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is a snappy spoof with a cast of just three actors. Each plays multiple roles, so they are constantly donning crazy wigs, kooky hats, fake beards and clothes intended for men or women. And this cheeky version gallops along at a breakneck pace, like this exchange, in which Doctor Watson and Sherlock Holmes pursue a fleeing suspect:
Watson: If only caught the number of that runaway cab…
Holmes: Clumsy though I may have been, you don’t imagine that I neglected to get the number. Number 2-7-0-4! That’s our man!
Watson: Holmes, you’re incredible!
Holmes: Could you swear to his face?
Watson: I’ll use any language that you consider necessary.
Holmes: No… never mind! It is imperative that against all odds, we find that particular cabby.
Watson:OK! Let the impossible manhunt begin!
It’s one part classic whodunnit; one part smirking melodrama; one part movie clichés, delivered with a nod and a wink; and one part highly caffeinated silly satire.
Like the time Doctor Watson gets separated from wealthy Sir Henry – Sherlock Holmes has told Watson to stay at Sir Henry’s side, no matter what, to protect him from a menacing but unidentified threat:
Holmes: Who’s the killer?
Watson: Well, it’s not as easy as all that. It’s really complicated. But I can do it.
Holmes: Can you, Watson? And what have you done with your charge, Sir Henry? Surely he isn’t out here alone at this hour of darkness, when the powers of evil are exalted!
Watson: Well, he’s around here somewhere… (Hound howls…)
Holmes: What have you done, Watson?
Watson: Oh come now, Holmes. This is no time to panic!
Holmes: Could this be? Watson, this is the perfect time to panic! Sir Henry’s life is in mortal danger!
Watson: Are you proposing to take on the very devil himself?
Holmes: The hound is of mere flesh and blood. But I fear we are too late, and that history is about to repeat itself!
Watson: There on the precipice! Sir Henry!
It’s briskly delivered with staccato urgency, so you rarely have time to think about how corny some of this well-worn material really is. But actors Lynn Robert Berg, Jeffrey C. Hawkins and Dougfred Miller are experienced pros, who execute their routines with exquisitely precise timing, and a knowing gleam in their eye.
High art with elevated language it is not – it’s silly summertime fun, for an outdoor audience of folks on vacation. And at the end, the backstage crew – which works very hard throughout, coordinating rapid costume changes and props – comes out on stage to take a well-deserved bow with the actors.
The Lake Tahoe Shakespeare Festival production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” runs in repertory with the Shakespeare comedy “Love’s Labours Lost” through Aug. 27.