Hair of the dog

From the Boston Herald, Jul. 27, 2010

‘Hound of the Baskervilles’ a barking good time

They should call it the Running of the Actors – that increasingly popular theater form in which a small acting company takes on a great many roles, and controlled chaos ensues. Many hats are worn and by the end someone assuredly winds up in some kind of absurd petticoat/tuxedo combo outfit.

Steven Canny and John Nicholson’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” plants itself firmly in this category, alongside other recent productions of the same ilk – Patrick Barlow’s four-man “The 39 Steps,” Reduced Shakespeare Company’s three-man “The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged)” and Charles Ludlum’s two-man “The Mystery of Irma Vep.”

“Hound,” now onstage at Central Square Theatre, isn’t the most clever or most original of its type. This three-man, willfully silly Arthur Conan Doyle adaptation is pretty standard stuff. But it pushes all the right buttons for a diverting night at the theater. It’s just good old, fourth-wall-breaking fun.

The production sets the tone early when Sir Charles Baskerville’s eerie murder gets interrupted by an actor jumping into the scene to give us a belated preshow announcement. The three performers – in this case Remo Airaldi, Trent Mills and Bill Mootos – introduce each other, then cheekily give audience members the option to leave before things turn scary.

The rest is a broad and Velcro-clothing adaptation of Doyle’s best-known Sherlock Holmes novel. After the death of his uncle, Sir Henry Baskerville (Mills) enlists the aid of Holmes (Airaldi) and Dr. Watson (Mootos) in solving the potentially lethal mysteries surrounding his new country estate. Supposedly a supernatural beast has it in for any and all Baskervilles, but Holmes suspects a more earthbound culprit.

The three actors play 16 roles in all, from Baskerville Hall’s creepy butler to femme fatale Beryl Stapleton. As expected, it’s a lot of tear-away trousers and ducking behind two-dimensional boulders, plus the time-honored British tradition of ridiculous cross-dressing.

“Hound” features two veterans of the American Repertory Theatre: Airaldi, at his clowny best, and Thomas Derrah in the director’s chair. Derrah is an actor himself, and it shows in his playful and ensembled-driven production.

Central Square Theater has gone all out for its first major production not put on by either of the venue’s resident companies. The lobby has been redecorated in faux-gentlemen’s-club style, complete with a dartboard and a miniature billiards table. It’s a collection of diversions, like the play itself – exactly what we need on a balmy summer night.

”The Hound Of The Baskervilles” at Central Square Theater, Cambridge, Saturday night. Through Aug. 22.

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