WESTMINSTER — While there are at least six film versions of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel "The Hound of the Baskervilles," Tim Kelly's is the only version that we know of for the stage. Judging from this production at the Westminster Community Theatre, there isn't likely to be another for a while.
Conan Doyle's tale follows Holmes and reliable partner Watson as they ponder a supposed curse on the members of the wealthy Baskerville family, whose mansion sits on the edge of western England's treacherous moors. Out there in the dark scrub, a giant hound apparently has gobbled up one Baskerville after another. The latest meal was provided by Sir Charles Baskerville. His heir, Sir Henry, could be next.
It's all pretty far removed from the cozy if sinister drawing and smoking rooms where most of Holmes' cases unfold. It is not, to be sure, a natural for a one-set play. But that is exactly what Kelly has made of the novel, cramming more expository and offstage business into his two acts than really is fair for any play to contain.
Kelly has created a tangle of problems. For openers: Why would Holmes (Gary Black) arrive, leave and return to the Baskerville mansion while Watson (Edward J. Steneck) stays on? An important yet awkward subplot involves an escaped convict (played by George Spelvin) on the moors: He has to appear inside the mansion so we can see him--even though the mansion would be the last place this poor chap ever would go.
It all ends with an almost comical climax (not helped by Claudia Rockwell's muddy sound effects) that takes place entirely off stage, giving us the odd feeling of not being where the action is. When the story was adapted to film (even in the lousy versions), we got a sense not only of the wild moors versus the civilization represented by Holmes and Baskerville but of the cathartic confrontation with the hound--and the real, non-paranormal secret behind the beast.
Here, it's mostly a stolid series of dry dialogues, delivered stiffly by director Marc LeBlanc's cast. Styles and accents are all over the globe, ranging from Black's strangely commanding, ultra-serious Holmes (whose utterance of the word "moor" is downright creepy) to John Fanelli's sloppy, American-accented Sir Henry (who isn't even dressed in proper 1930s costume) and Steve Saatjian's badly wooden delivery of the crucial role of mysterious Jack Stapleton. The women aren't much better, from Tracy Fanelli's less-than-alluring Laura Lyons to Cassandra Hess' dull, nonthreatening Kathy Stapleton.
Black's rigorously firm voice would make him ideal for radio--which perhaps is where this version belongs. At least that way we could imagine that we are with Holmes in the outdoor gloom, instead of wondering why we are looking at an empty old drawing room.
* "The Hound of the Baskervilles," Westminster Community Theatre, 7272 Maple St. Friday-Saturday, 8:30 p.m. Ends Saturday. $10-$11. (714) 527-5546. Running time: 1 hour, 40 minutes.
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"The Hound of the Baskervilles,"
Gary Black: Sherlock Holmes
Edward J. Steneck: Dr. Watson
John Fanelli: Sir Henry Baskerville
Steve Saatjian: Jack Stapleton
Cassandra Hess: Kathy Stapleton
Tracy Fanelli: Laura Lyons
Sandra Terry: Lady Agatha Mortimer
John McFarland: Barrymore
Kip Hogan: Mrs. Barrymore
Karen Merrill: Perkins
George Spelvin: Seldon
A Westminster Community Theatre production of an adaptation by Tim Kelly of a novel by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Directed by Marc LeBlanc. Set: LeBlanc. Lights/sound: Claudia Rockwell. Costumes: Sandi Newcomb.