By Steve Wong
As with any Sherlock Holmes story, Baskerville, the current production at Tryon Little Theater, is a question of whodunit. With more than 40 characters being played by five comedic actors, the answer lies in wait, like a giant demon dog hiding in the moors of England.
If the words “Baskerville,” “Sherlock Holmes,” and “moors” bring back memories of high school literature class, you’re on the right track, but this theatrical version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous The Hound of the Baskervilles crime novel (1902) is a tongue-in-cheek hoot-a-minute that cannot be suppressed by staid British humor. With excellent and energetic acting and creative use of setting, the four-men-and-one-woman show is so funny that wondering whodunit can easily slip your mind as you catch your breath for the umpteenth time.
Baskervilles: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery was written by playwright Ken Ludwig (Lend Me a Tenor, Moon Over Buffalo) in 2015. In Tryon, the play is directed by Nancy Winker, who also directed Tryon’s The Book Club in 2019. In addition to her theatrical work in Rutherford, NC, she was last seen on Tryon’s stage for A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime in 2019. Winker is commended for working with the actors to develop the story’s characters and their timing, which are crucial to the play’s success. She is also commended for the set design that uses 3-D blocks and towers with cubist images to convey the various scenes.
Like the original novel, this is a story about the mysterious deaths of the men in the Baskerville family in Devon. According to legend, the family is cursed and victim to a hellhound because ancestor Hugo Baskerville abducted and killed a maiden on the moor. Most recently, Sir Charles Baskerville was found dead with an expression of horror on his face. Friend Dr. James Morimer calls on Sherlock Holmes in London for help because the next heir/victim, Sir Henry Baskerville, is soon to arrive to claim his birthright. This calls for a little on-site detective work by Holmes and his sidekick Watson. From Holmes’s iconic 221B Baker Street home to the opera to Baskerville Hall to the moors, Holmes and Watson sleuth their way to find out who is killing the men of Baskerville and why.
Along the way, they encounter an assortment of funny, weird, and verbally challenged characters who are played by the ever-changing cast of five.
Holmes is played by Mark Sawyer, who keeps a stiff upper lip despite the comedic script. With his deerstalker cap, dignified posture, and reserved attitude, Sawyer is the perfect Holmes. Sawyer was last seen on the Tryon stage in 2020 as Daddy Murphy in Bright Star. If all goes as planned, we’ll see him this month in the movie Christmas at the Grey Horse Inn, which was partially filmed in Tryon.
Don McKinney, a newcomer to Tryon Little Theatre, plays Watson, a man glad to play second fiddle but glad to be occasionally recognized for getting something right. Though new to Tryon, he is an accomplished actor in nearby Rutherford County. His past roles have been in Cricket in the Hearth, A Christmas Carol, The Diary of Anne Frank, The Good Doctor, and The Ugly Duckling. McKinney’s deadpan persona of Watson is classic.
Actress Lori Lee and actors Alex Tapp and Guy Winker take on various roles that require speedy costume changes, quick personality changes, and even quicker physicality. Lee has been on the Tryon stage many times in shows such as Mamma Mia!, Almost Maine, and The Last Night of Ballyhoo. Her other acting roles have been in The Dixie Swim Club, Honky Tonk Angels, The Last Five Years, Bye Bye Birdie, Dearly Departed, and many more. As a diverse actress, Lee stands out in Baskerville with her instructions to Watson to “walk this way,” cross dressing, and delivering dialogue with a most impressive English lisp. It is also a joy to see Lee in her latest theatrical gig.
“Actor 1” is played by Winker, who takes on so many roles it’s hard to sort them out. Actually, he plays 14 “freakin’’’ roles in Baskerville. As a seasoned actor, Winker is smooth and professional as he transitioned from one goofy character to the next. He has been associated with Tryon Little Theatre for 15 years and played countless roles.
“Actor 2” is played by Tapp, who also plays many roles in Baskerville, the most notable being the targeted-for-death Sir Henry. A native of Columbus, NC, Tapp is a familiar face at Tryon Little Theatre, having been seen in I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. Some of his other roles have been in The Book Club, A Little Night Music, and Clue. In Baskerville, Tapp shines as the fast-talking Henry Baskerville from across the pond, but I think I will always remember his ability to spin on a dime and change his hat and character faster than you can say “Whodunit.”
Baskerville is the kind of play you can’t take too seriously. It’s just fun to watch the actors change roles, to pick up on the obvious cues to change roles, to remember how the characters were originally written, to finally see the attack dog, and to finally find out who did it. You need not worry about keeping track of who’s who: Just roll with it and enjoy the farce. You’ll never be able to see the more serious rendition of the story without secretly laughing on the inside at how funny a mauling on moors can be.
Baskerville continues this weekend Thursday-Saturday at 7:30 pm and Sunday at 3 p.m. You can get your tickets on line at www.tltinfo.org, or by calling 828-859-2466.