A plush red curtain, complete with the semblance of a proscenium, is the first appealing surprise when you arrive at Manoa Valley Theatre for “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.” How luxurious!
The second joy is a revolving turntable set nearly as large as the performing space that is used sparingly but effectively. How ingenious!
The third charm is a splendid all-female ensemble, with Brooke Channon Dee as Sherlock Holmes and Malia Wessel as Dr. John, in a comic caper of a murder mystery with tongue clearly in cheek. How inventive!
Three others in the cast (Shannon Winpenny as Actress One, Courtney Booth as Actress Two and Therese Olival as Actress Three) enact more than 30 different characters with rapid-fire enthusiasm and precision, tapping a cornucopia of types, shapes and styles.
Director Rob Duval decided to go with a distaff cast because the farce demanded a formidable force. The women don beards, Holmesian capes and smoke pipes to portray everything from a doctor to a German maid, from a train conductor to a tobacconist, from a hotel clerk to a nurse. It’s believed to be the first all-women interpretation of the comedy, with Tony-winning playwright Ken Ludwig authorizing this rare casting.
The whodunit plot, based on Arthur Conan Doyle’s much-exploited “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” takes Holmes and Watson on an elementary journey from Baker Street in 1890s London to the rural English countryside to sleuth and solve the mystery of the death of Sir Charles Baskerville, the suspected victim of a supernatural canine stalking the moors.
Ludwig, of course, is known for LOL slapstick plots and manic pacing, witnessed in his earlier hits “Lend Me Tenor” and “Moon Over Buffalo.” But instead of characters chasing each other and slamming doors in rapid-fire mayhem, the gags, punchlines and costume changes in MVT’s “Baskerville” are especially swift. Sometimes, it’s a mere change of a cap or peeling off part of a dress to display pants.
Dee and Wessel are the steadfast leads, displaying the decorum associated with the fabled investigative duo. It’s the other three actors who get the chance to explore accents and body language, and it’s their stamina and strength that carry the show.
Winpenny is notably the bubbles in this wacky Champagne of giggles, not only with her broad and bold delivery of lines, but with facial and vocal expressions that are the heart of the lunacy. While Olival and Booth also earn points (the former snags mostly women characters, the latter has core romantic opportunities), Winpenny steals the spotlight with her recurring stance as a butterfly-catching loony.
Director Duval also can be credited for the choreography of the briskly paced series of entrances and exits; this is not a musical, but the actors skillfully maneuver movements galore.
James Corry’s set, including Holmes’ tidy chamber and that revolving stage, add immeasurably to the atmosphere, enhanced by fog-like smoke effects, in a clear example of the set becoming a character. The visual appeal includes a tableaux of art pulled out from a series of off-stage panels, and another nice touch with the use of shadow puppets in a couple of scenes.
And that red curtain frames the production handsomely.
“Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” by Ken Ludwig, directed by Rob Duval, set design by James Corry, lighting design by Janine Myers, costumes by James Corry, costume supervision by Jennifer Hart, sound by Jason Taglianetti, scenic artistry by DeAnne Kennedy, prop design by Sara Ward, hair and makeup by Lisa Ponce de Leon, production management by Braddoc DeCaires, technical direction by Montana Rizzuto. Running time: 2 hours, with intermission.
“BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY”
Presented by Manoa Valley Theatre
>> Where: Manoa Valley Theatre, 2833 E. Manoa Road
>> When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesdays and Thursdays, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, 4 p.m. Sundays, through Jan. 28
>> Cost: $22-$40
>> Info: 988-6131, manoavalleytheatre.com