NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — Published in 1902, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" marked the return of the popular resident of 221B Baker Street, Sherlock Holmes, after his creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, sent the iconic detective plunging to his apparent death over Reichenbach Falls nine years earlier in "The Adventure of the Final Problem." So strong was the public outcry over Holmes' demise that subscriptions to Strand magazine, in which Holmes' adventures appeared, plunged as precipitously as did Holmes and his arch enemy, Prof. Moriarty.
Set in years well before the events in "The Final Problem," "The Hound of the Baskervilles" unfolds chiefly on and around fog-enshrouded Dartmoor in England's West Country, where the young heir to the Baskerville name and fortune is believed to be in the cross-hair of a monstrous supernatural canine beast.
In taking on Holmes' signature adventure, master farceur Ken Ludwig ("Lend Me a Tenor," "Moon Over Buffalo") has attempted to have his cake and eat it too. The plotting is straight Conan Doyle. Ludwig's storytelling is in the mode of the stage adaptation of "The 39 Steps" — two actors at the center who play only one role each throughout the narrative and, in this case, three other actors (two men, one woman) who play a variety of multiple roles while making inventive use of seemingly mundane props.
But in the hands of director Phil Rice and a generally undistinguished cast, the unfolding of the plotting on The Theater Barn stage, where "Baskerville" is opening the theater's 2019 season, is rarely more than plodding.
Rice's production is as much in search of style, whimsy and lucidity as Holmes (Matthew Tyler) and his trusty aide, Dr. Watson (Aaron Holbritter) are in search of solution to a grisly series of deaths. There is a lot of hit-and-miss there. The sense of inspired lunacy this play needs throughout is alive and well in Ryan Palmer who, as Actor 1, plays his multiple roles with a carefully calibrated, liberating appreciation of Ludwig's style. It's a skill that is not shared by his two other would-be madmen, Alec Lee (Actor 2) and Liz Woodward as Actress 1 (and only).
Tyler is an adequate, if somewhat nondescript Holmes and Holbritter is a dutiful Watson.
Sam Slack's appropriately minimalist setting makes good use of projections to set locales and anchor a production that is far too helter-skelter. When all else, fails, however, there is Palmer's inspired lunacy. He is a perfect Ludwig surrogate.