Theater Review: Acting Trio Pushes the Madcap Pace of ‘Hound of the Baskervilles’

For the Valley News
Friday, March 04, 2016
Sir Henry Baskerville has a problem. He’s being hounded to death. If the beastly hound of Baskerville family legend doesn’t kill him off first, Sir Henry may well sink into the Grimpen Mire or be frightened to death wandering foggy Dartmoor.

In the Northern Stage Production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, directed by Peter Hackett, a third possibility could do Henry in: Cecile (played by Thom Miller), the enthusiastic senorita and object of his affection, might break his heart.

This Hound is not simply a stage version of the dusty, leather-bound Sherlock Holmes mystery. Yes, the genesis is Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, a favorite of Holmes fans since its publication in 1901. What Northern Stage has brought to rousing life, however, is the comedic adaptation by British writers Steven Canny and John Nicholson, first performed in 2007. At opening night on Saturday, the audience laughed aloud over and over throughout the 2-hour performance.

The cast comprises three actors, Thom Miller, Bill Kux and Jacob Tischler, who play 16 roles among them, including two women. Hound is an example of metatheater, described as “theater in which the audience is aware of the construct of the play,” according to the program notes. In this production, filled with quips, double entendres and verbal gymnastics, the actors address the audience out of character, even abusing them. For example, Miller angrily insists that the audience member who Tweeted about him during intermission make himself known. They dismantle the fourth wall increasingly as the show progresses, and make knowing asides and commentaries throughout. If you’ve seen a production of Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps, perhaps the one at Northern Stage in 2010, this may sound wonderfully familiar.

The madcap play follows the outline of Conan Doyle’s story. Sir Charles Baskerville is found dead of a heart attack. The huge pawprints near his body revive the family legend about the curse of a demon hound. The next in line to the Baskerville fortune, Charles’ nephew Sir Henry Baskerville, prepares to travel to Dartmoor to claim his inheritance. In London he engages the services of Sherlock Holmes to look into the strange circumstances surrounding his uncle’s death.

But before he heads out to the family estate in Dartmoor, Henry receives a warning from someone concerned for his safety. Then one of his shoes is stolen. And Holmes believes that Henry is being followed by a stranger. All point to a mystery in the making. Thank goodness, Holmes and Dr. Watson are on the case. Or are they? Holmes pretends to stay behind to attend to business in London, leaving Watson to accompany Sir Henry to the Baskerville estate. Watson believes himself to be in charge of the case.

As Artistic Director Carol Dunne said to the opening night crowd after the show, “Casting is 90 percent of any production.” The trio of Miller, Kux and Tischler is in fine form, each bringing his own theatrical bag of tricks to his performance.

Miller, in his seventh role at Northern Stage (most recently in Mad Love), gives a hilarious performance as Holmes, alternating with his other roles as a bizarre naturalist, a creepy butler, the butler’s weepy wife and a tour de force as the lusty, busty senorita, Cecile. His Holmes is all he should be and Miller’s marathon of physical comedy is mesmerizing.

Kux portrays Holmes’ trusty sidekick, John Watson, as the consummate, if slightly oblivious 19th century gentleman and trustworthy assistant as well as a bumbling wannabe detective. He last appeared at Northern Stage in Romeo and Juliet and has a number of Broadway, television and cinema credits.

As Sir Henry Baskerville and several other characters, Tischler is, by turns, charming, clueless and love struck by the seemingly-coy Cecile. While Miller must run on and off stage and return in a change of costume and character, Tischler has the task of teasing the audience in the meantime. Tischler and Miller reach their comedic peak when they tango around the stage, choreographed by Keith Coughlin and Sarah Case. Tischler last appeared at Northern Stage in Mary Poppins.

With the fast, occasionally frantic pace and the quick set pieces and costume changes, Hound calls for tight direction and Hackett, a Dartmouth College theater professor and Dunne’s husband, has delivered. It’s worth noting, too, that the backstage crew is key to the fast-paced timing in this play and they made good on that.

The infamous foggy moor is like a character itself. This fog does not come in on “little cat feet,” but bounds in on the oversized pads of a monstrous unseen dog, thanks to the moody, evocative lighting design by Stuart Duke and spot-on sound by Ben Montmagny.

The location is based on a visit Conan Doyle took to Dartmoor with its numerous bogs and mires. The fictitious name, the Grimpen Mire (where people have been known to sink alive in its peaty ooze) is enough to strike fear even in the midst of a comedy. Jordan Janota’s set design ably evokes a barren, misty moor and a castle in the distant background, and also doubles as a bedroom and a sauna.

Costume designer Amy Sutton had an extraordinary number of costumes to create, from the nattily-clad Dr. Watson’s suit to Sherlock Holmes’ trademark detective wear to the shabby yokels and strange attire of the naturalist and others—and, most notably (as well as noticeably), is the Victorian costume of the senorita Cecile.

This mashup of slapstick, verbal hijinks, high speed costume changes and physical comedy resonates with audiences like the original story did a century ago. Watch it and weep — with laughter.

Northern Stage’s production of The Hound of the Baskervilles continues at the Barrette Center for the Arts, 76 Gates St., White River Junction, through March 12. For information and tickets call the Northern Stage box office at 802-296-7000 or go to

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