The curtain doesn't fully raise to start The Hound of the Baskervilles; rather, a translucent veil remains draped on the front of the stage acting as a spectral screen for frightful projections of the title’s murderous canine. It’s only the first of the many elaborate production design details that highlight Seattle Rep’s all new adaptation (by David Pichette and R. Hamilton Wright) of one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s best-known Sherlock Holmes mysteries. Even for those familiar with the story’s many twists, this production proves a worthwhile retelling thanks to the aforementioned design elements and the strength of its Holmes (Darragh Kennan) and Dr. Watson (Andrew McGinn).
The Hound of the Baskervilles tells the tale of an allegedly cursed country manor haunted by a vicious hellhound. When the previous inhabitant of Baskerville Hall, Sir Charles Baskerville, is mysteriously killed, his nephew, the Canadian Sir Henry Baskerville (Connor Toms), moves in and enlists Sherlock Holmes to investigate the strange happenings. Kennan’s Holmes is captivating eccentric. He speaks with a sharp command and when his mind starts analytically turning, the words of his monologues fire off so quickly it's almost as if his mouth can’t keep up with his brain’s own OCD brilliance. And while he often comes off as dour and stern, he can be equally outlandish and comedic when the case calls for it. Holmes’s idiosyncrasies are aptly counterbalanced by the reliability of McGinn’s Watson, who acts as a sort of dramatic straight man. He’s the calm steadying force that the antisocial Holmes relies on in order to connect with the case’s human side. The pair’s chemistry ties together the show and it's delightfully entertaining when they’re verbally exchanging ideas and theories at a rapid clip. The stability of the two help Hound’s story stay grounded even in its more melodramatic moments (like the times when Sir Henry’s love interest Beryl [Hana Lass] falls into a trance and has supernatural visions).
While the starts of the first two acts get bogged down a bit in dialogue, the action soon picks up and this is where L.B. Morse’s superb scenic, lighting, and projection design shines. In the play’s best scene, Holmes and Watson chase a suspect through the streets of London as large columns move across the stage to recreate the havoc of darting through a packed city. Amidst the bustle, the gears churning in Holmes’s mind are represented by quick snapshot moments of pause where he clearly identifies the suspect among the masses. At other moments in the show the howl of the hound, thick fog, dark cellars, crashes of lighting, and projections of perilous cliffs further build the tension.
The holidays’ spectral season is usually dominated by Jacob Marley and co., but Hound adds a new dog to the proverbial fight and it's one that’s not lacking bite.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Thru Dec 15, Seattle Rep, $15–$80