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Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery
by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Maggie Ryan
October 14, 2017

John O’Hagan, Gwen Wotawa, Elliot Auch, Kent Coffel
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre Company is closing out their latest season with a comic mystery that’s familiar in more ways than one.  Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery is another telling of a well-known story about a well-known literary detective, but its style is also somewhat familiar, calling to mind another popular theatrical comedy thriller. At Insight, this story benefits from an impressive cast and some clever staging.

The first thing that came to my mind when reading about the structure of this show wasn’t Sherlock Holmes but another popular mystery story that’s been given the comic theatrical treatment, The 39 Steps. Like that popular and often-staged play, Baskerville is staged with a small cast, and with some of the cast members playing a wide variety of characters. It also has some similar staging conventions and pacing. Still, it stands well on its own without appearing merely derivative. The story is based on one of Arthur Conan Doyle’s more well known Holmes tales, The Hound of the Baskervilles. The characters of Holmes (John O’Hagan) and Dr. Watson (Kent Coffel) are central, especially Watson in this staging. All the other characters are played by three performers, billed as Actor 1 (Elliot Auch), Actor 2 (Ed Reggi), and Actress 1 (Gwen Wotawa). The story follows Holmes and Watson as they investigate a strange case involving a murder on a moor bordering a country estate and an old family legend of a gigantic killer hound. The estate’s heir is transplanted Texan Sir Henry Baskerville (Reggi), who gets a note warning him to stay away from the moor. Watson then goes with him to his newly inherited estate to try to figure out what’s going on. Much intrigue, scheming, and hilarity follows, as the various characters and would-be suspects are introduced, and as the plot is further complicated by an unexpected romantic entanglement.

Although this is billed as a Sherlock Holmes story, it’s actually Watson who seems to get the most stage time, and Coffel plays his role with charm and energy. O’Hagan is also excellent as the brilliant but evasive Holmes. The other three players, each playing a number of roles, are excellent as well, with Auch displaying a variety of accents in various roles ranging from Baskerville neighbor Dr. Mortimer, to mysterious and butterfly-obsessed Jack Stapleton to a young informant helping Holmes. Reggi plays the friendly but bewildered Baskerville and a number of other roles, including the gruff Inspector Lestrade, among others. There’s some particularly clever staging involving an extremely quick character change by Reggi that provokes a big laugh from the audience. Wotawa rounds out the cast in a variety of roles ranging from various women involved in the case–particularly Beryl, who becomes involved with Sir Henry–as well as a young boy who helps Holmes gather information in London. The staging involves a lot of quick costume changes, as well as some self-referential humor, and it’s all performed with a lot of enthusiasm by this energetic ensemble.

The set, designed by Matt Stuckel, is versatile and works well for the quickly moving nature of this play. With movable set pieces and a prominent video screen, the locations can be set easily and moved around with speed. There’s also excellent atmospheric lighting by Connor Meers and strong sound design by Robin Weatherall, providing the various affects needed for the situations, from comic to spooky. All the technical elements work together well to help tell this story and facilitate the high-energy, always moving style of the show, as well as the traditional “Sherlock Holmes” look.

Baskerville is a lot of fun.  It’s a well-timed and cleverly staged production that provides a lot of opportunities for versatility among the cast members. It’s Sherlock Holmes, but not like you may expect. It’s a memorable way for Insight to close a successful season.

Ed Reggi, Kent Coffel, Elliot Auch
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

Insight Theatre Company is presenting Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at the .Zack Theatre until October 29, 2017

 

 

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Moon Over Buffalo
by Ken Ludwig
Directed by Edward Coffield
Insight Theatre Company
July 25, 2015

Will Bonfiglio, Alan Knoll, Jenni Ryan Photo by John Lamb Insight Theatre Company

Will Bonfiglio, Alan Knoll, Jenni Ryan
Photo by John Lamb
Insight Theatre Company

“All the world’s a stage”, Shakespeare wrote, but for some people, the stage is their world. Insight Theatre’s latest production, Ken Ludwig’s outrageous backstage farce Moon Over Buffalo, depicts a couple of past-their-prime stage stars for whom show business is their life, although family conflicts and the lure of Hollywood complicate that life. Insight has brought this play to life in a fast-paced, laugh-a-minute production that calls to mind the theatre world of yesteryear while managing to emphasize some timeless themes as well.

Backstage at the Erlanger Theatre in Buffalo New York, celebrated stage performers George (Alan Knoll) and Charlotte Hay (Jenni Ryan) are leading a company of actors on the latest stop of a tour. They’re performing two plays in repertory–Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and Noel Coward’s Private Lives. Their daughter, Rosalind (Sam Auch) used to perform with the troupe but has left showbiz for the “real world”, and returns to visit so she can introduce her parents to her new fiance, star-struck TV weatherman Howard (Will Bonfiglio). That’s only the start of the story. The rest is a comedy of many surprises, involving Rosalind’s ex-boyfriend Paul (Pete Winfrey), who still loves Rosalind; her feisty grandmother Ethel (Tommy Nolan), who rarely remembers her hearing aid; company member Eileen (Kara Overlein), who may or may not be having a fling with George; and Richard (Eric Dean White), the Hays’ lawyer, who is harboring a not-so-secret romantic interest in Charlotte.  What follows is a hilarious, slapstick farce involving love triangles, mistaken identity, mixed up performances and costumes, and in a vein similar to another famous backstage comedy,  Noises Off, lots of running in and out of doors.  It’s a story that doesn’t make a lot of sense if you take it seriously, but fortunately “serious” is about the last word you can use to describe this play–unless of course you mean “seriously funny”, because Moon Over Buffalo certainly is that.

The delightful cast has no weak links, and is led by Knoll in a memorable performance as the bombastic, vain George. He’s got the timing down to a science, especially excelling in his drunk scenes. Ryan matches him as the somewhat jaded Charlotte, who seems to be a little more grounded than her husband. Auch is fine as Rosalind, as well, especially pairing well with Winfrey as the still lovestruck Paul. Winfrey has a goofy, energetic charm about him and plays the physical comedy well. There are also strong performances from Nolan as the confrontational Ethel, White as the more subdued Richard, Overlein as the emotional Eileen, and Bonfiglio in a scene-stealing performance as the delightfully goofy Howard. This play depends a great deal on comedic timing, and these players execute that well. There’s a particularly side-splitting section in Act 2 involving a mixed-up stage performance that highlights most of the performers comic abilities and keeps the audience laughing out loud.

The scene has been set ideally by means of Peter and Margery Spack’s remarkably detailed set. The backstage of a 1950’s theatre has been meticulously recreated and decorated with all sorts of theatrical paraphernalia and Margery Spack’s excellent period-specific props.  The costumes, designed by Erin Reed, are colorful and well-suited, as well, from the 1950s clothes to the theatrical costumes for Cyrano and Private Lives. It’s a very strong technical production, providing the appropriate whimsical atmosphere for the chaotic goings-on of the show.

Laughter is the number one goal of a show like this, and Insight’s production achieves that goal with zeal and gusto.  It also provides a little window into the world of theatre in the middle of the 20th century, when television was starting to emerge as an important force in entertainment, and films had already become predominant. The main reason for a show like Moon Over Buffalo, though, is to make its audience laugh, and it does that well. It’s a zany, charming farce that holds the audience’s attention from the beginning and holds it until the end.

 Insight Theatre Company’s Moon Over Buffalo runs at the Heagney Theatre at Nerinx Hall, Webster Groves, until August 9th, 2015.

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