An atrocious crime begets a thrilling investigation.
Move over soothsayers, Cumberland County Playhouse has Emma Jordan and Hannah Hayes playing the ultimate mystery-solving sleuth-sayers for Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: a Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” where there’s more power in a single deduction than in any crystal ball.
“We’re doing a comical version of the Hound of the Baskervilles and it still has its mysterious moments and jump scares. We wanted to do something we thought the audience would really enjoy,” Director John Fionte said. “The audience loves Ken Ludwig plays. They’re always a huge hit.”
It is an incredible production set in the 1890s England, where hilarity meets mystery and only five Playhouse cast members play the roles of 45 different characters in 25 set locations.
Going for a motif with a motive, Fionte chose “Baskerville” because, in short, he’s a Sherlock Holmes fan. He has never seen a production of this show, but the way Ludwig’s play reads, it’s presented as a farce on the typical serious Holmes productions. More than that, though, Fionte chose this particular play because of its role complexity, his interest in a production with a bare-bones cast and the creativity of the dynamics as it comes to life on stage.
“It’s hard. You should be proud of yourselves,” Fionte said to the Baskerville cast during rehearsal. “In terms of understanding what this piece is, you guys have nailed it. I’m seeing full-fledged characters. I see your objectives. Even in the more farce scenes, things are starting to happen organically. It’s really exciting to watch.”
Traditionally male roles, Fionte casted Emma Jordan as Sherlock Holmes and Hannah Hayes as Dr. Watson, giving them the choice of whether or not to play Holmes and Watson as men or women. Jordan and Hayes decided they wanted to play the roles as women, and the show’s leading ladies seamlessly take the roles into a new era.
“I didn’t set out to make a statement,” Fionte said. “I wanted to find the best and most interesting choice that I could make for the role.”
As Holmes and Watson, real-life besties Jordan and Hayes are easy to watch, comfortable and candid, entertaining with their English accents and back-and-forth banter. Excited to have been cast, they have been waiting all year for the show to start.
“The lady power,” Jordan said, “it’s cool to play– truly– two icons.”
“It’s a mammoth of a role, but it’s rewarding,” Hayes added. “It’s equal pressure, but equal reward; to be trusted with that, I have a lot of pride to be trusted with an icon like Watson or an icon like Sherlock. We’re very grateful.”
“It really worked because we all get along so well,” Hayes said. “And we’re all there to just work and help create this world and [Fionte] also gives us so much freedom to do so. It’s a very collaborative process.”
Save the one extra warm body in a wolf suit playing the hound and the coat rack standing in as the Scotland Yard inspector, each of the other 43 characters have their own accents, attitudes, mannerisms, costumes and props. Cast members Daniel Black, Lauren Marshall and Grayson Yockey chase their tails shifting from character to character pushing the storyline along as Jordan and Hayes chase the clues of the mystery. The players even become the props, and the props become the players. But, the true mystery is how these actors are able to pull off so many convincing characters, expertly landing their lines so the audience is not only completely taken into the story, but supremely entertained by the clever delivery, drawn in from the perspective of the same players acting as different characters.
The result is nothing short of a riot.
Holmes and Watson are on the case to solve Sir Baskerville’s mysterious death and the Legend of the Baskerville Hound; a case which presented, as Holmes says to Watson, “…a foeman worthy of our steel.”
Clue after clue and scene after scene, these talented players are able to transition into their next character throughout the production and manage to complete their character change with second-long costume changes to accompany their new personalities that make the characters hilariously memorable. The commitment these players dedicate to every single one of their characters is beyond impressive and makes for a vivid account of the Baskerville mystery.
Upon entering and exiting, cast member Grayson Yockey said, “I have to think, ‘Ok, who am I now?’”
Hayes chimed in, “And what accent you’re supposed to have?”
An air of the supernatural is propelled by the legendary Baskerville hellhound. One of the secrets of the vast and barren moors of Devonshire, the demon dog haunts and hunts as, “…It calls and cries and brings nothing but death…”
In fact, it is so well done, every single scene is worth mentioning.
Catch Ken Ludwig’s “Baskerville: a Sherlock Holmes Mystery” at The Playhouse, opening Friday, Oct. 11, and running through Nov. 7. Call The Playhouse box office at 931-484-5000 or visit ccplayhouse.com for ticket information.