Sherlock Holmes as a comedy? Who knew?
But the laughs are plenty in Ken Ludwig's "Baskerville: A Sherlock Homes Mystery," opening Jan. 19 at Theatre Baton Rouge.
"Arthur Conan Doyle's 'The Hound of Baskerville' was so complex that it wasn't adapted for theater before Ken Ludwig staged it in 2015," says Jenny Ballard, the theater's artistic director. "He tightened it with minimal sets and props, and it works beautifully."
And it's funny, a mix of slapstick and thrills.
Tyler Grezaffi plays the work-obsessed Sherlock Holmes with Ronald Coats as his serious sidekick, Dr. Watson.
Three other actors tackle the remaining 37 — that's right, 37 — roles.
Kenneth Mayfield plays eight characters, Kacie Barnes plays 14 and Zac Thriffiley juggles 15 different personalities.
The story is fast-paced, witty and follows Doyle's 1902 plot surrounding the murder of Sir Charles Baskerville. His death initially was attributed to a heart attack, but Baskerville's face emanates horror, and the footprints of a gigantic hound are discovered nearby.
The Baskerville family, the story goes, has lived under a curse dating to when ancestor Hugo Baskerville supposedly offered his soul to the devil for help in abducting a woman. He was reportedly killed by a giant spectral hound.
Sir Charles believed in the curse, and those who discovered his body believe he was fleeing in fright when he died.
Sir Charles' male heirs have been knocked off one-by-one. Who you gonna call? London's favorite detective Sherlock Holmes, of course.
"And he's so happy to have a case to work on," Grezaffi says. "This Sherlock Holmes is a high-energy character, and it's almost like he lives for his work. He's only happy when he has something to investigate and figure out, and he can be a bit manic when he attaches himself to a case."
And Watson is along for the ride.
"I'm the steadfast right-hand man, more of the straight man to Sherlock Holmes — everything I do is deadpan," Coats says. "But I've always been good at playing the straight man."
Watson also is the story's narrator.
The other roles are where the true challenges begin. Thriffiley, Mayfield and Barnes constantly change characters throughout the play, so much that they sometimes become confused.
This is Barnes' first time playing multiple characters.
"At first, I learned all the lines, and there were times when I'd get some characters mixed up," she says. "Then I learned the characters by dialect, but there are still times when I get them confused."
In addition to juggling his character, Mayfield is also the theater's technical director and scenic designer, and he's usually working behind the scenes.
"I decided to return to the stage for this one because I've always enjoyed comedy," he says. "And I love stretching my acting legs on this collaborative piece. It's been a great experience, and we've found it safe to try some things without fearing that we'll fail. And if it doesn't work out, we just try something else.
Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
A Theatre Baton Rouge production
WHEN: 7:30 p.m. Jan. 19, Jan. 25-27, Feb. 1-3; matinees 2 p.m. Jan. 21, Jan. 27-28, Feb. 4.
WHERE: Theatre Baton Rouge, 7155 Florida Blvd.
TICKETS/INFO: $25, $19, students. (225) 924-6496 or theatrebr.org