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Not even Sherlock can solve mystery of combining comedy and thrills

Holmes goes high-tech in dazzling Baskerville
Alex Zahara and Mark Weatherley play Sherlock Homes and Dr. Watson in the Arts Club zany production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, which runs until Oct. 9 at the Stanley Theatre.

You don’t have to be a fan of Sherlock Holmes, but you might enjoy this send-up at the Stanley Theatre more if you have at least a smidgeon of familiarity. On the other hand, even if you’ve never read one of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s murder mysteries or seen any number of the film or television treatments, you know that Sherlock’s sidekick is the somewhat stuffy and definitely under-rated Dr. Watson, that Sherlock smokes a pipe, wears a deerstalker cap (although he doesn’t in this production) and smokes opium (no sign of narcotics on the Stanley stage).

Sherlock Holmes is deeply entrenched in popular culture whether you care or not.

The story begins with the discovery of the body of Sir Charles Baskerville; nearby are footprints that appear to be from a monstrous dog. Such a dog is legendary in the local countryside, and Sir Charles appears to have been literally scared to death. Holmes is contacted and is immediately fascinated. He accepts the case and drags the not unwilling Dr. Watson along to the moors where the body was found.

The Arts Club’s production of Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, however, is a comedy, and it is on this level — not the unravelling of the mystery regarding the monstrous hound that haunts the foggy moors — that Ken Ludwig’s play entertains. In fact, by about two-thirds of the way through, I was beginning to lose track of who had been murdered and what possible motives there were.

Mark Weatherley portrays the steady, somewhat self-effacing Dr. Watson while Alex Zahara is a fair-haired, more robust, dapper Holmes than we’ve come to expect. Zahara invests in him all the explosive anger and upper-crustiness that Holmes reportedly exuded. All the rest of the characters — and they are many — are played by Lauren Bowler, Mike Wasko and Kirk Smith. Accents switch with rapidity from English to Scottish or German and many others, and costumes by Mara Gottler are shed in a flash. In fact, the changing of costumes becomes, in itself, part of the shtick. Bowler at one point is onstage as one character when Sherlock pointedly and loudly says the name of another. Aghast, Bowler stops, rushes offstage and re-emerges as someone else faster than you can say Velcro. In another scene, the versatile and very funny Wasko — giving up the charade of leaving the stage to come back as someone else — simply whips off his costume on stage and in full view.

The performances are, to say the least, animated and the pace, at times, frantic.

Under John Murphy’s direction, the production is extremely creative and high-tech with pre-taped videos blending in with real time action, shadow puppetry, projected and video images (designed by Candelario Andrade) against several screens that are in almost constant motion by both actors and technicians. Act I is particularly fun to watch with Ted Roberts’ set and exceptional lighting design; the look is Gothic but Gothic-lite. Act II is no less inventive, but the plot is all but lost in all that dazzle. Perhaps the novelty has worn off and when the curtain falls, you get the feeling it’s more fun being in this show than watching it.

Baskerville is an odd combination of genres — comedy, farce and murder mystery. Perhaps the most successful of this particular mix has been The 39 Steps presented by the Arts Club back in 2010. That production managed to keep the thriller plot evolving and being hilarious at the same time. Baskerville is really great looking, has some hilarious moments but doesn’t solve the mystery of blending comedy, fantastic visuals and a Gothic thriller.

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Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs until Oct. 9 at the Stanley Theatre. For tickets, call 604-687-1644 or go to