In Park Square Theatre's "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery," the roles of the famous detective and his sidekick Dr. Watson are both played by women. In another show, that unique piece of gender-bending might be the central feature. Here, it's just part of the territory.
Playwright Ken Ludwig (of "Lend Me a Tenor" and "Moon Over Buffalo" fame) does an admirable job of condensing the complex plot of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" into a two-act play without sacrificing essential details.
He also abbreviates the cast, which consists of Holmes, Watson and three additional actors who take on dozens of secondary characters. Throw in all manner of puns, accents, double entendres and clever anachronisms, not to mention a couple of puppets, and this brooding mystery about an ill-fated family and a vengeful canine fiend becomes a wildly comic marathon.
The action plays out almost as a series of vignettes on Eli Sherlock's set, which consists of three gilt-framed doorways through which platforms glide in and out. Each platform serves as a tiny stage, representing Holmes' office, the entrance of the Baskerville family mansion, and various other locales. The gloomy Devonshire moors are conjured by movable mounds of vegetation, which are used to hilarious effect as the characters scramble over and around them, while Michael P. Kittel's dramatically atmospheric lighting heightens the production's archly melodramatic tone.
McKenna Kelly-Eiding perfectly embodies Holmes' authoritative manner and sly condescension while Sara Richardson, one of the Twin Cities' finest clowns, delivers a delightfully wide-eyed Dr. Watson. Their solid work almost pales in comparison, however, to the ensemble's other three members.
Dashing from one role to the next, Ricardo Beaird, Eric "Pogi" Sumangil and Marika Proctor don costumes, accents, postures and shticks at lightning speed, often out of breath and occasionally dropping their characters altogether to express their annoyance at the pace. Among Beaird's multiplicity of characters is a lisping butterfly collector whose hilarious use of his long-handled net provides one of the evening's most sustained comic bits. Sumangil delivers broadly funny performances as a pistol-wielding Texan and tough-guy Detective Lestrade, among others, while Proctor demonstrates marvelous range in an assortment of male and female roles.
There are moments when the overflowing silliness threatens to drown this production entirely, but director Theo Langason keeps this piece of unmitigated nonsense not just afloat but stylish and effective. Sly, campy and inventive, "Baskerville" is a headlong piece of pure fun and a welcome addition to Park Square's summer-mystery canon.
Lisa Brock is a Twin Cities theater critic.