Wednesday, February 1, 2017

reviews - BASKERVILLE - Phoenix Theatre

Michael Jenkinson, Toby Yatso,  Pasha Yamotahari and Emily Mohney
Photo by Reg Madison Photography
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through February 12th.

"...Ken Ludwig’s fast-paced comic farce Baskerville, adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, employs just five actors; two to play the central characters of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson while the remaining three cover everyone else; somewhere around forty or so supporting characters....The resulting effect is that it’s all played for laughs, even if the story the play is presenting is perfectly serious....the effective, potentially satirical tone of those opening few moments is immediately yanked from under us; a point from which the production never quite recovers, and things have hardly begun. Ludwig’s adaptation is remarkably faithful ...with only a few, and admittedly, lame jokes added to the script ...a handsomely designed production.  The five person cast of highly talented players are certainly game. ...But with all the moments of shouting above the intentionally dramatic stabs of old-style radio drama music, the slapstick of bodies seemingly rolling downhill, the absence of anything subtle, and the overall zaniness, the production often looks and sounds messy. And worse; it’s not funny. A lot of that has to do with Ken Ludwig’s script which needs to be more amusing than it is, but this production’s free-wheeling, anything-for-a-laugh approach is heavy on mugging and light on real humor. ..." -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"Arthur Conan Doyle's famous detective Sherlock Holmes seems to never go out of style. ...One of the latest adaptations of Doyle's famous detective stories is Ken Ludwig's Baskerville, a fairly faithful stage version of Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles," which is receiving its Arizona premiere at Phoenix Theatre. Ludwig, famous for his farcical hit comedy Lend Me a Tenor, adds plenty of humorous bits to the classic detective story. While the cast of five includes three gifted comics, this isn't a completely successful production, due to the playing up of the gags, creating an odd balance between the humorous and dramatic elements....the comedy sometimes becomes so broad, and there is such an overabundance of music bits and extended comedy movements, that not everything succeeds. There are several times when it seems like the cast and director Robert Kolby Harper are throwing whatever they can out there to see what sticks, but a lot of it just falls flat or is only mildly funny....there are numerous times when Watson is narrating the plot...make for such a big shift from the zanier moments that come before them that they come across as slightly out of place.... Emily Mohney, Pasha Yamotahari and Toby Yatso are simply sublime as they create multiple characters of both sexes...Michael Jenkinson makes a very solid and layered Watson while Randy Messersmith's slightly subdued take on Holmes might be one reason why he seems less important to the plot. Connie Furr's costumes and Daniel Davisson's lighting are lush and stunning as they evoke the many different locations and characters in the piece...there is some confusion as to what set designer Tiana Torrilhon was going for in her decision to use an abundance of angled wood planks on every set piece. ...Baskerville has some shortcomings, though I'll admit there were several times when I laughed out loud at the sheer genius of Mohney, Yamotahari and Yatso. ...if you're a fan of the more serious Sherlock Holmes' adaptations you may want to skip Baskerville. But if you enjoyed The 39 Steps you will probably relish the fast-paced antics of this very talented trio and the zany, over the top nature of Phoenix Theatre's production. " -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

".“Baskerville – A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” is playwright Ken Ludwig’s 2015 murder mystery adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” but Ludwig’s play...is a thriller gone awry....the bland, boring, and totally uninteresting plot...plods along tediously.  Primarily the fault of the playwright’s amazingly dull-witted adaptation, “Baskerville” wants to be a farce as it constantly screams for some really amusing situations that could transform it into a comedy....The play has been unfairly compared to the more inspired thriller parody “The 39 Steps.”...The show includes 40 supporting characters portrayed by three actors as Sherlock Holmes and his assistant, John Watson, attempt to identify the killer. ...Robert Kolby Harper’s clean staging finds and uses every idiotic plot bit for humor even if too little true audience laughter occurs.  The zippy staging also keeps the ploddingly slow show moving briskly as the production avoids dwelling on the mediocre story or the lame comedy.  ...Randy Messersmith’s commanding Holmes dominates and Michael Jenkinson’s Watson is an able assistant to the investigative master.  Emily Mohney handles the female roles.  Toby Yatso tackles both suave and crass men plus a woman energetically while Pasha Yamotahari essays the more lightweight men amusingly....has little real humor so it plays blandly and slowly without amusing audiences. ." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery played to a packed house opening night at Phoenix Theatre. The mystery expectation  was set by an imposing full moon that glowed while brooding, bass brass instruments and timpani rumbled.

Playwright Ken Ludwig, who we appreciate for contributions to Broadway like Lend Me a Tenor and Crazy for You, offers a new script with lots of room for sight gags, poking fun at stereotypes and physical comedy. While three actors each play multiple ridiculous roles, Sherlock (Randy Messersmith) and Watson (Michael Jenkinson) remain constant. Based on the thin premise that Watson gets to be the central sleuth rather than Sherlock, the show is a lot more nonsense and schtick than it is mystery.

To turn a knight's classic novel, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Hound of the Baskervilles, into frivolity is a bit jarring, but it's a night of laughter and fun nonetheless.  The primary rib-tickler at Phoenix Theatre is an irrepressible trio comprised of Actor 2 (Toby Yatso), Actress 1 (Emily Mohney) and Actor 1 (Pasha Yamotahari) who play in excess of 30 different roles.

Of the many characters Yatso assumes, a wealthy Texas cowboy is most endearing.  Picture a cute cross between Philip Pullman's Lee Scoresby and Toy Story's Woody.  Emily Mohney  jettisons between stereotypes (from damsel in distress to French maid) and dialects in her many different transformations.  Yamotahari's resume in the serious study of clowning pays big returns here, too.  The quick changes, gender swaps, broad ethnicity range and costume switches are fast and fun and marvelous for all three.

As for the guys unraveling the mysterious shenanigans, Messersmith as Holmes is suitably matter of fact and a tad condescending, as it should be. Jenkinson as Watson plays an excellent straight man to the many antics whooshing around him.  He carries the plot forward and joins in with practiced comedic timing when it's called upon.

The scene to wait for is the self-induced windstorm.  People were slapping their legs and wiping tears from their cheeks as Yatso and Jenkinson battled the gale while Yamotahari skittered across stage to retrieve his blown hat.  Whereas previous iterations of Ludwig's play have mixed more evenly as an evening of spooky whodunit and comedy, all of Phoenix Theatre's Baskerville breezes along with light-hearted, well-executed silliness." -- Jennifer Haaland, PHX Stages 

"......familiar and predictable...The plot hews closely to “The Hound of the Baskervilles",...redone as a farce, this version traffics in easy stereotypes and wordplay more likely to generate gentle chuckles than knee-slapping guffaws. ...Michael Jenkinson is a standard-issue, if youngish, Dr. Watson, while Randy Messersmith’s Holmes is blandly Costnerian. Both actors, however, are serving the straight-man role to Toby Yatso, Pasha Yamotahari and Emily Mohney, each juggling a dozen or so character bits. Scenic designer Tiana Torrilhon’s Gothic cartoon of a set looks like a scene out of “Scooby-Doo,” which is just about right for the many characters yukking it up onstage..but without ever reaching Mel Brooks heights of zaniness. Yatso and Yamotahari...are both gifted physical comedians, and they keep the pace brisk and the mood jaunty. They make “Baskerville” entertaining enough, but the fare is forgettable. " Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

" If you love a freewheeling fast-paced farce, you'll enjoy BASKERVILLE: A SHERLOCK HOLMES MYSTERY, now tearing up the stage at Phoenix Theatre with twists, turns, and detours that transform Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles into a howl and a hoot. If you're expecting the traditional Sherlock whodunit...dispel yourself of the notion. Ken Ludwig's play flits from convention and flies wildly off the rails, with the small cast of characters nimbly playing multiple characters with multiple costume changes to boot before your very eyes....If amongst all the action, you're able to track the unfolding trajectory of clues, congrats! Indeed, even the laugh lines tend to fall flat and fail to elicit much knee-slapping. In this play, the plot and the lines are rather beside the point; it's the experience.......Robert Kolby Harper's direction yields a speedway of high octane performances from Michael Jenkinson (a thoroughly engaging Watson), Randy Messersmith (a self-assured but distinctively lower key Holmes), Emily Mohney (an enthralling Mrs. Hudson), Pasha Yamotahari, and Toby Yatso. ...There's much to enjoy in this tightly crafted and finely tuned production where alternative facts are de rigueur, Holmes holds the key to the puzzle, and the audience goes along for the ride." Herbert Paine, Broadway World (click here to read the complete review)

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