Thursday, July 9, 2009

Review - Hound (Rachel Klein Productions and the Planet Connections Theatre Festivity)

Review by Byrne Harrison

There are certain directors whose work is instantly recognizable. Having seen a few Rachel Klein productions, I would add her to this list. Klein's productions feature an otherworldly feel, highlighted by odd costume pieces, choreographed movement, and a bold, non-realistic acting style. The effect is like seeing the world through a kaleidoscope - there are things that are familiar, though bent out of shape and rearranged, and while the picture is odd and possibly unsettling, it is beautiful.

At first blush, a play based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novel, "The Hound of the Baskervilles" seems an odd choice for Klein's theatrical stylings. This Victorian mystery about a wealthy landowner seemingly done in by a hound from hell, certainly has supernatural elements that Klein's fanciful style could highlight, but ultimately this story is one in which cool, rational observation triumphs over irrational fear and superstition.

Hound, John Patrick Bray's play inspired by Conan Doyle's book, is a different story altogether, and one that is indubitably suited for Klein's direction. Bray takes the focus off the Baskervilles and Holmes, and explores the character of Dr. Watson (Cavan Hallman). This Watson is not the affable sidekick that is normally seen in Holmes stories. He is full of despair and doubt, his life shattered by the loss of his beloved wife, Mary. When Holmes (Ryan Knowles) is approached by Dr. Mortimer (Elizabeth Stewart) about the murderous hell hound and her concerns for the new Baskerville heir (Grant Boyd), Holmes sees a mystery to be tamed and truth to be uncovered. When Watson hears about the supernatural hound and the mysteries surrounding the Baskerville family, he sees a doorway to the next world and a possible way to contact his lost love.

What follows has more to do with a rational man's struggle to comprehend a world that no longer makes sense, and his flailing attempts to grab on to anything that seems to answer his unanswerable questions. The theatrical elements of Bray's play - monologues by secondary characters explaining their backstory, talking dogs that Watson can understand, use of flashback - all combine to create a world that to Watson's eye is completely off-kilter. Klein's direction and costumes underscore that alien feeling. The result is decidedly theatrical and unrealistic, but certainly entertaining.

The acting in the production is strong, and the actors, especially those whose characters are wildly over-the-top, excel at creating this surreal vision of Victorian England. Chief among these are Elizabeth Stewart as the quirky Dr. Mortimer, and Blaine Peltier, as Stapleton, the eccentric naturalist. Holmes is played with a twinkle in his eye by Ryan Knowles, a late addition to the cast. With a impressive voice and commanding appearance, his Holmes looks and sounds like those who have come before him, but Knowles captures the humor and compassion that others have missed in the cool and logical detective. Overall, it is Cavan Hallman who is given an opportunity to shine as the tortured Dr. Watson, and he takes full advantage of it, making the most of Watson's highs and lows as he navigates this unfamiliar landscape, both literal and figurative, that he finds himself in.

While those seeking a traditional staging of Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles" may be put off by John Patrick Bray and Rachel Klein's creation, those with and adventurous spirit and a desire to see something original will be delighted by Hound.

Written by John Patrick Bray
Directed by Rachel Klein
Stage Manager: Teresa Maranzano
Sound Designer: Sean Gill
Costume Designer: Rachel Klein
Costume Design Consultant: Emily Taradash
Make-up Designer: Anita Rundles
House Manager: Erin Trinidad
Board Op: Victoria M. Moshy
Press Representative: Emily Owens PR
Photographer: Joseph Stipek
Holmes Photographer: Rachel Adams
Model for Holmes Photograph: Evan Melancon
Graphic Designer: Danielle Bienvenue Bray

Featuring: Grant Boyd (Sir Henry Baskerville), Jack Corcoran (Mr. Barrymoore), Meredith Dillard (Mrs. Hudson/Mrs. Barrymore), Cavan Hallman (Watson), Abigail Hawk (Beryl Stapelton/Mary), Ryan Knowles (Sherlock Holmes), Blaine Peltier (Stapleton), Alyssa Schroeter (Curley the Spaniel/Toby the Dog/The Hound), Elizabeth Stewart (Mortimer), Jason R. Stroud (Mounted Officer/Boy/Seldon)

Planet Connections Theatre Festivity
440 Studios
440 Lafayette Street, 3rd Floor

Closed June 25th

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