Howling at Sherlock’s Hilarious ‘Hound’

Standard

Bruce caricatureBruce The Blog Beyond Broadway  

BY BRUCE APAR

When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

The Hound of the Baskervilles
Adapted from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s novel
By Steven Canny and John Nicholson

Directed by Mark Shanahan

Through May 13, 2017 (weekends)

Whippoorwill Hall Theatre at North Castle Library
Kent Place, Armonk, New York 10504
(914) 271-28811

Order Tickets on Website
or
Call 1-800-838-3006


In the gut-busting production of The Hound of the Baskervilles now doubling over audiences at Hudson Stage in Armonk, there are some 20 characters on stage–but only three actors.

How does that work? Like clockwork! More precisely, like a crazy, cuckoo clock with sleight of hands that move at lightning speed–forward, backward and wayward. 

Review continues below photo…

 

 

Baskervilles trio

FUNNY GUYS (From left) Denis Lambert as Sherlock Holmes, Joe Delafield at Sir Charles Baskerville, Matt Ban as Dr. Watson. The trio of actors play some 20 characters in all.                               All photos by Rana Faure

This raucous confection not only makes bloody good fun of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s iconic sleuth and his sidekick Dr. Watson. The farcical play makes fun of its own clever contrivances. It even mocks its actors, who occasionally step out of character as themselves. Oh, don’t feel sorry for them. Not for one minute. In fact, it’s difficult at times to discern who is having more fun: The people on stage or the people in the audience. No matter. Fun it is, from beginning to end, and back again.

HEY, LET’S RE-RUN ACT I… IN HIGH SPEED

As Act II begins, the actor who plays Sherlock Holmes and a host of other characters (quick-change whirling dervish Denis Lambert) insists to his incredulous castmates that they re-run the first Act… in high-speed. Why? Because, complains the indignant Lambert, a supposed member of the audience during intermission tweeted that the actor slowed down the hijinks with his sluggish performance. To redeem himself, Lambert exhorts his sidekicks to race headlong through the highlights of Act I. And they oblige him. (It reminded me of the show-stopping musical number in Broadway hit “The Producers” that recaps the entire plot to that point. The music here is the melodic notes of laughter.)

Denis Lambert’s partners in crime-solving are Joe Delafield (Sir Charles Baskerville and others) and Matt Ban (Dr. Watson and others). They form a tight, nimble comedy troupe that performs with vaudevillian brio, donning and doffing headwear and outerwear, plus smoothly transporting props on and off stage to create the illusion of a much fuller cast of characters and settings. The fancy feet work they do is no easy feat, , and their collective efforts are to be vigorously applauded and admired, especially by other actors who amply can appreciate the challenging tasks at hand. The transformative costumes that constantly morph are a real stitch, the seamless handiwork of Jeni Schaefer and Charlotte Palmer-Lane.

Baskervilles 2

                                        SHERLOCK, YOU JEST! These guys get around, don’t they?                                             All photos by Rana Faure

KNOCK, KNOCK! WHO’S THERE?

“What can you deduce about that knocking?” asks Holmes of Watson, who replies, with unerring instinct, “It’s coming from the door.” That’s just a very light taste of the silly yet puckishly authentic repartee and gags that trigger guffaws aplenty.

If all this sounds veddy Monty Pythonesque, there’s good reason. The co-writers of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” – Steven Canny and John Nicholson, billed as “adaptors” to pay due homage to their muse, Sir Arthur – have extensive credentials as comedy writers for England’s BBC TV network. Whether it’s Monty Python or Benny Hill, the Brits love their comedy dry, punny and slapsticky, and they love their literature immortal, from Shakespeare to Sherlock to, well, Harry (Potter, not Prince).

Throughout the fast-paced romp of the Baskervilles, the suspenseful storyline somehow stays intact, providing a sturdy, timeless framework for tongue-in-cheeky wordplay, non-stop physical comedy, and whimsical winks at the audience, which winks back by gleefully going along for the joy ride.

The case they must crack is simply stated: Members of the wealthy Baskerville clan are being hounded to death by a rabid Rover. Holmes and Watson wend their way through the moors and the mire and some slippery sorts to solve the mystery. And the game’s afoot.

WHAT A HANSOM CAB THAT IS!

Kudos to director Mark Shanahan and choreographer Stephanie Card, who do a masterly job of keeping the action throttling forward at breakneck speed. That includes putting the actors through some bouncy paces as they ride in a horse-drawn, hansom cab and on a train. 

As is standard operating procedure for Hudson Stage and its producing team of Denise Bessette, Olivia Sklar and Dan Foster, the production is expertly staged, with tender loving care assigned to every aspect of stagecraft.

The sensual sound design, by Sean Hagerty, credibly creates a sense of place, whether it’s a howling hound or an ominous wind or a creaking door or mooing cows. The visual effects are fun to take in as well. For example, with the right balance of imagination and artistry, a household object placed on stage by the actor – such as a pail billowing steam — can adequately signify a sauna.

 

Baskervilles-11

WHO’S FRAMING WHOM? (From left) Matt Ban, Denis Lambert, Joe Delafield as… oh, who can keep track of them all. All photos by Rana Faure

THROWBACK THEATER

Before the play began, a smile came over my face at the sight of the elaborate set, another hallmark of Hudson Stage’s consistently tony style of theater. This time it is a gorgeously rendered recreation of an early 20th Century proscenium arch theater with carved wood columns and burgundy red curtains flanking the stage (scenery by David Arsenault.)

To someone who’s never been inside North Castle Library’s Whippoorwill Theatre – an eminently audience-friendly and actor-friendly performing space — odds are they’d be none the wiser thinking the current décor is the permanent stage. It’s that convincing. I thought to myself, “This is throwback theater!” Go to the Whippoorwill in Armonk, throw yourself back in the comfy seats, prepare to act like a hound, and howl.


Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency. Its Adventix division helps performing arts venues, including The Schoolhouse Theater, increase ticket sales. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals, including Westchester Magazine. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


Unmasking Ancient Myths

Standard

Bruce caricatureBruce The Blog Beyond Broadway  

BY BRUCE APAR

When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

The Mask of the Jaguar King
by Stuart Warmflash
Directed by Bram Lewis
Through April 23, 2017 (weekends)
The Schoolhouse Theater
3 Owens Road, North Salem, N.Y. 10560
(914) 277-8477
Order Tickets on Website


It’s safe to say that dedicated theater-goers wouldn’t mind seeing more richly-themed dramatic offerings like The Schoolhouse Theater’s beguiling production of The Mask of the Jaguar King.  

Described by the producers as “Part battle of angels, part ghost story, part ritual dance, using indigenous and original sound landscapes with live music,” it is now on stage at the absolutely charming Croton Falls theater, playing weekends through April 23 (see ticket info above).

Review continues below photo…

Quetzal

MAN ON A MISSION. Actor O.V. Daniels commands the stage as the quixotic Quetzal.  Photo courtesy The Schoolhouse Theater. 

NOTHING LIKE LIVE THEATER
Faced as we are these digital days with images washing across screens of all sizes, plus the reclusive obsession of binge-watching, the intimacy, immediacy and electricity of live theater grows more appealing as a flesh-and-blood antidote to electronic entertainment. That’s one good reason there is a groundswell forming for local live entertainment. It’s spreading and drawing crowds.   

Walking into the Schoolhouse Theater, the audience instantly is thrust into the recesses of a remote jungle in Guatemala in June 1933.

AIR OF AUTHENTICITY
Our real-world state is willingly suspended by the painstaking detail and artistry of a campsite setting in the shadow of the forbidding facade of an ancient Mayan temple. We see a makeshift brick stove, lantern, suitcase and other totems of the time. The set design’s air of authenticity wafts across the audience.

The crown jewel is the jade- and onyx-studded mask of The Jaguar King. The priceless artifact is the prize in a tug-of-war pitting the witty, bull-like Quetzel against the disarming rope-a-dope style of Sophia, who gives as well as she gets. Let’s just say the two have entirely different reasons for coveting the mask.

At times, it feels like a Disney set piece, with monkey sounds and other ambient sound effects. Most welcome at regular intervals is the virtuoso guitar-playing of Peter Calo. His credentials are solid gold, having played with everyone from Carly Simon and Andrea Bocelli to Willie Nelson and Leonard Bernstein. The only cavil in this corner about the incredible Mr. Calo is that we don’t see and hear more of him. He adds wonderfully to the show’s dream-like spell that it casts on the audience.

Review continues below photo…


Sophia_Quetzal

DIG SHE MUST. Meghann Garmany as archaeologist Sophia gets in her disarming digs at the combative and proud Quetzal. Photo courtesy The Schoolhouse Theater.

DECLARATIONS OF INDEPENDENCE

Schoolhouse’s compact, 99-seat black box space is ideally scaled for this production, directed by Bram Lewis with verve and vitriol, which make for some explosive declarations of independence.

Conflict is the heart and soul of all drama. At the heart of Jaguar King is the stark contrast between its only two characters:  Sophia (Meghann Garmany) and Quetzal (O.V. Daniels).

She is a tightly wound, frosty archaeologist from Manhattan who is all business and focused on bringing back priceless artifacts from a dig. He is a passionate revolutionary who is intent on spiriting way those very same artifacts, which to him represent oppression and familial tragedy.

TO WHOM DOES HISTORY BELONG?

As the press material more fully explains, “The Mask of The Jaguar King is a religious mystery pitting the politics of imperialism against the desires of the heart,” press notes state. “In 1933, a battle of the sexes breaks out when an American archaeologist finds herself stranded at the site of a Mayan Temple with a dangerous Hispanic revolutionary intent on stealing priceless ancient artifacts. As they slowly unmask each other’s dark personal secrets it remains unclear, who is the real outlaw? To whom does history belong? And does the value of preserving the past justify the injustices of the present?”

The character of Sophia, says playwright Stuart Warmflash, is modeled after 1930s archaeologist Tattiana Proskouriakoff. Quetzel represents the rise of the outraged underclass, ruled by the heavy hands of oppression and exploitation. It was a time of colonial expansion into Central America, and, to native revolutionaries like Quetzel, imperialism was the curse of evil empires wanting to tame and harness the working class in vulnerable nations.  He understands the laws of the jungle and unabashedly uses them as his survival kit.


Bram Lewis_screen

KING MAKER. Bram Lewis, artistic director of The Schoolhouse Theater, directs The Mask of the Jaguar King with his usual theatrical flair. Photo by Bruce Apar


FROM SEETHING TO SPIRITUAL
As Quetzel, the salt-of-the-earth, cocksure protagonist of the piece, O.V. Daniels is a theater goer’s gift. His is a masterly performance of power and nuance. One minute he’s railing rabidly against “those corporate bastards the United Fruit Co.,” and the next minute he is exuding other-worldly spirituality.

Meghann Garmany effectively cools down and counters her nemesis with swan-like elegance, although, despite appearances, life for her isn’t all sweetness and light. 

Mr. Warmflash has given his feisty creation some choice observations, even epigrams, like, “The law is whatever those in power decide it is.” Or, “There is no God. Only the divinity of a gun.” I call them Quetzel’s Quotes.

A SUPER POWER WITH SMALL VISION
Quetzel’s mischevious and growling persona comes through con brio when he says to the stuck-up scientist, “It may surprise you to know we have schools in this part of the world.”

Another zinger is “You Americans have such small vision.” Therein lies a persistent undercurrent of the writer’s theme: Things are not always as they seem. America certainly is a land of opportunity. At times, that privilege can bleed over into self-delusion about how omnipotent and omniscient we are about foreign cultures we study from afar but still don’t truly understand up close. 

The play’s production notes tell us that “The Jaguar King history, the scepter, and the mask are fictional, but loosely based on the region’s folklore and archaeological history.”


Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency. Its Adventix division helps performing arts venues, including The Schoolhouse Theater, increase ticket sales. He also is an actor, a community volunteer, and a contributor to several periodicals, including Westchester Magazine. Follow him as Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.


A Lot to Like in ‘Lot’s Wife’

Standard

Bruce caricatureBruce The Blog Beyond Broadway  
BY BRUCE APAR
When Bruce The Blog Watches… People Act!

Lot’s Wife (American Premiere)
by Albi Gorn
Directed by Karina Ramsey
Through March 25, 2017 (weekends)
Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT)
23 Water Street, Ossining, N.Y. 10562
Order Tickets on Website
(914) 271-2811


Albi Gorn started writing Lot’s Wife more than 20 years ago, then recently reworked it in theater workshops . Considering how this pithy parable about survival, faith, assimilation and intolerance resonates today, the prolific and talented playwright either is visionary or an astute student of historical cycles. Let’s call it both.

His work – now on stage through March 25 at the new home of Westchester Collaborative Theater (WCT) in Ossining – is not only close to the bone in how it mirrors the prevailing, authoritarian political climate, but also sticks to the bone well after you’ve exited the performance space. (Review continues below photo…)


WHY? Julie Griffin (top) is in the title role in Albi Gorn’s “Lot’s Wife,” with Justina Dieck (c) as Shira and Jessica Hickey as Geula. Photo courtesy Westchester Collaborative Theater

Mr. Gorn has taken the biblical tale of the wayward denizens of Sodom – and their wholesale punishment at the hands of a vengeful God – and has modernized it with his usual deft hand and highly literate sensibility. As in all of his diverse body of work, the award-winning dramatist likes to challenge glib assumptions and look at life a bit askance, with humor lightly salted throughout. (In this version, however, we do not witness Lot’s wife’s lot in life, which is to be a-salted for turning her back on God.)

In the Gornification of the story of Lot, we are treated – and a treat it is – to a female-voiced God, a choice that is refreshing and no less plausible than the age-old conceit that an omniscient spirit is identifiable by any gender at all.

THE MAGNIFICENT 10
The author leaves the Genesis storyline intact: Abraham (Kurt Lauer) is God’s earthly emissary who informs Lot (Ron Schnittker) — along with Lot’s wife (Julie Griffin), and their daughters, Geula (Jessica Hickey) and Shira (Justina Dieck) — that they must find 10 innocents among the unholy populace to spare the entire town a fiery death for forsaking God (the voice of Ms. Griffin).

The Lots themselves have lots to be thankful for, because they are protected by a pair of angelic messengers mercifully dispatched by God, Yael (Michelle Daneshvar) and Ashonael (Jason Fineberg).

The setting of Lot’s Wife still is antiquity, but some of the vernacular invokes today’s idioms, as when 13-year-old Shira giddily tells the angel Ashonael he’s “hot.” Or when the symbolic villain of the piece, 18-year-old Sodomite Horab (Ralph Vandamme) — an appropriately intimidating presence who is dutifully vigilant about rooting out undesirable Hebrews — menacingly avers, “There are some people here who should have their butts kicked.” The strapping young actor is all too convincing that he could do it, too.

DEALMAKER, DEALMAKER, MAKE ME A DEALHe also knows how to balance playful with tasteful. When Abraham pleads with God to reduce to 10 from 50 the number of worthy Sodomites who must be found to save the town, the playwright manages to turn the exchange into a charming, laugh-inducing negotiation, as if the father of the Hebrews had just read “The Art of the Deal.” Not. One of the signal accomplishments of Lot’s Wife is how its author packs a lot of timeless themes rather neatly into a tight, well-paced package:

In 16-year-old Geula (Jessica Hickey), daughter of the Lots, we are reminded how the next generation is given to its own agenda at times, as well as its doubts that can disconnect it from the experience and teachings of their parents.

In Lot, a wealthy man whose “go-along-to-get-along” submissiveness to the Sodomites is in sharp contrast to his wife’s proud and disciplined defiance of their oppressiveness, we are reminded of the wages of sin when more faith is placed in the almighty buck than in the almighty. Sound familiar?

DRAMATIZING, NOT MORALIZING

That kind of gentle nod to current culture places the teachable moments of the story in both a more relevant and a more diverting context. The symbolism in Lot’s Wife – with its pitch-dark overtones of holocaustic witch-hunting and genocide – is readily available to the audience, but in artful brush strokes. We thankfully are not bludgeoned by it, as can occur in theater pieces that veer off into moralizing at the expense of dramatizing. Mr. Gorn proves masterly in the elusive writer’s credo of “show, don’t tell.”

In Lot’s Wife, we empathize with the guilt of survivors — whether it’s a natural disaster, the sudden loss of a loved one, or genocide — and with the unanswerable question they are plagued by the rest of their days: Why?

There are several revelations of this production that are worth savoring for any local theater-goer.

GENERATIONS OF TALENT ONSTAGE

One is the energy and the talent of the four young actors on stage, three of whom are in the drama program at Ossining High, with one a student at John Jay Middle School. Placed alongside accomplished adult actors – all of whom prove their mettle with fine performances – the younger actors hold their own and mesh beautifully with their elders.

In the principal roles, Julie Griffin, Kurt Lauer and Ron Schnittker make a strong trio of veterans who propel the story with conviction and dramatic weight.

Also worth noting in smaller roles are impressive thespian Donna James as Abraham’s wife Sarah and Pat O’Neill as an Innkeeper in a flashback scene.

Another revelation is the resourceful use of Westchester Collaborative Theater’s newly-occupied space in a former furniture cabinet factory on Water Street, next to the Metro North station. Considerable kudos are due WCT executive director Alan Lutwin and executive producer and director Karina Ramsey, as well as set designer Jonathan Curns and the rest of the production staff – including costume designer Libby Brennesholtz – for making the most effective and practical use of a compact space. Their efforts evidence a lot of industry and ingenuity that are the saving grace of many a local theater company.


TAKE A BOW! The cast of “Lot’s Wife” takes a bow at Westchester Collaborative Theater’s new theater on Water Street in Ossininig: (from left) Ralph Vandamme, Donna James, Kurt Lauer, Jessica Hickey, Justina Dieck, Julie Griffin, Ron Schnittker, Jason Fineberg. (Not pictured on right) Michelle Daneshvar. Photo courtesy Westchester Collaborative Theater


Media and marketing specialist Bruce Apar is Chief Content Officer of Pinpoint Marketing & Design, a Google Partner Agency and Certified Google AdWords Professionals. As “Bruce The Blog,” Apar is a weekly columnist for Halston Media newspapers. He also is a contributing writer for Westchester Magazine and an actor. Follow Pinpoint Marketing & Design on Facebook and LinkedIn, and as @Pinpointments on Twitter and Instagram. Follow Bruce The Blog on social media. Reach him at bapar@pinpointmarketingdesign.com or (914) 275-6887.