As the nights turn crisp and the leaves begin to change color across the Rogue Valley, the Oregon Cabaret Theatre is the place to be for the perfect fall show, a staging of "Baskerville" by Ken Ludwig — that decidedly eccentric and wonderfully rendered take on the Arthur Conan Doyle classic, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" — which re-introduces the detective, Sherlock Holmes, to the world after some years in purgatory.
In this show, a small cadre of actors, ably directed by Rick Robinson, take on a daunting script that sets a frenzied pace and provides much comedic relief, although the overarching theme is, of course, one of murder and mystery. Somehow, the two genres marry beautifully and the production sets just the right tone between bone-chilling horror and hilarious slapstick humor.
Much of this is due to the robust physical humor and acting prowess of the assembled performers — three of whom play, variously, a pirate, a violated maiden, assorted Cockneys and carriage drivers, a punchy police inspector, a homeless convict, a deranged naturalist, a severe housemaid, a re-animated portrait, an ageing amorata, a swashbuckling West Texas oilman ... the list goes on, and on, and on.
A brilliantly conceived set that might have been formulated during a peyote-infused Rubik's cube competition serves as an additional character in the play — sections open and close, swivel open and slam shut to form carriages, counters, entryways and escape routes, all the while swathed in swirling smoke from the lonely moorlands of Devonshire, upon which local denizens are meeting a grizzly end at the hands of a great, black dog of supernatural proportions.
As Sherlock Holmes, Matt Koenig takes a decidedly different approach to the often austere and unflappable Holmes character. Mr. Koenig's Holmes is played for laughs, with an emphasis on the obsessive compulsive aspect of the great man's life — nary a hand is touched without special forethought to the health of its owner. Galen Schloming is very good as the long-suffering Dr. Watson; his hapless attempts at finding love or cracking a case are endearingly inept and highly watchable. However, it is the three supporting actors in this production who absolutely steal the show. That's not terribly surprising, since not a moment goes by when this unflappable trio is not onstage and at full tilt, playing some 40-odd characters between them.
Tony Carter, an OCT regular, is back in the fray, as a square jawed cowboy-hero type in many of the scenes. Mr. Carter is an excellent actor with a strong physical presence, and his comic timing is outstanding. Most often resplendent in a long duster coat and cowboy hat, but recostumed and transformed from moment to moment, Carter's strength and velocity serve as the backbone of the barrelling action. If this level of athleticism is a reliable motif of Carter's career in the theater, then his rumored addiction to Nutella should be adequately neutralized. It's a great performance, and there are excellent moments of subtlety within the storm of activity on display.
In her OCT debut, Mia Mekjian is the only female player onstage. It falls to her to supply all of the female characterizations but for one, a floor scrubbing, frock bedecked, and unconvincingly feminine Carter. Ms. Mekjian does so with great style and professionalism. I cannot imagine what it must be like to make one's debut at a new theater while simultaneously facing a role of such massive scope and complexity. With that in mind, Mekjian really is one of the best new performers I have seen at the Cabaret in recent memory. Playing an unhappy damsel-in-distress, she is excellent. In various other roles — most notably, a housekeeper of the Cloris Leachman/Mel Brooks variety at Baskerville Hall — it's clear that this young actor is a great addition to the Cabaret call sheet.
Lastly, Stephen Kline is in spectacular form in his various roles, most of which are maniacally sinister. As a butterfly obsessed aristocrat, Kline nearly walks off with the show, sweating profusely and leaping about the stage with a gleeful lunacy reminiscent of Peter Sellers's Dr. Strangelove. Kline's gift in this role is that he manages to portray mental instability as it actually behaves; that is, he's never overly flamboyant when betraying his personal demons. Rather, they peek out from behind an eccentric persona with periodic but terrifying homicidal intensity. In a way, Kline's characters are a microcosmic representation of the play — funny and engaging at all times, but also off-center and genuinely terrifying. His performance is the linchpin of the show, and would probably be its downfall had Kline not been so pitch-perfect for the duration.
Set design is fabulous, with audio visual and lighting both adding an important aspect of dread to the proceedings. As such, Baskerville is another stellar production in a long string of compelling Cabaret crowd-pleasers — a howling good time!
— Ashland resident Jeffrey Gillespie is a Daily Tidings columnist, arts reviewer and freelance writer. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.