Sherlock Holmes has to be one of the most instantly recognizable of all fictional characters, and it’s not merely his deerstalker hat and meerschaum pipe. What makes Holmes so identifiable is of course his extraordinary mind, which is the repository of those observational superpowers that allow him to draw accurate conclusions about people based on details that others overlook. Holmes is an “enthusiast,” as he puts it early on in this play, and Brian Harwell turns in an enthusiast’s performance, rendering the characteristic Holmesian litanies of observation and inference in a clipped yet exuberant tone that is wholly satisfying. Opposite Harwell’s Holmes is Jon Koons, who likewise presents a formidable Dr. Watson, a man capable of handling a distressed woman or a sidearm, as the occasion requires.
The elaborate stage set for The Hound of the Baskervilles was devised by scenic designer Patricia Frank and lit by Theodore Michael Dolas, and it is a star player, as well. The fun begins with light and fog and doesn’t end until someone — never mind who — gets sucked into the English country mire. Sean Jackson is Jack Stapleton, the darkly mysterious brother of Beryl Stapleton (Jenna Scanlon), the drama’s glamorous leading lady and number-one scream queen. Other standouts in the large cast include George Coe as James Mortimer, Robert Demetriou as Sir Charles Baskerville/Mr. Frankland, and Joshua Daniel Hershfield as Sir Henry Baskerville, or, as the character prefers it, “Hank.”
Alas, the performances and the stagecraft cannot entirely salvage what is in many ways an unsatisfactory adaptation. Sherlock Holmes is only onstage in his own character for approximately a third of the show, leaving “Hank” Baskerville to carry the middle of the show. This Canadian comic relief may have been funnier in Seattle, where the adaptation was written, than it is in Santa Barbara. The Sherlock Holmes style of detective story remains one of the trickiest things to pull off as stage entertainment. So many things have to go well — the language, the humor, and finally, the plot, which must dazzle without becoming too dense. This Hound has some teeth, but he’s a bit more bark than bite.