LEWISTON — If there is a world record for laughs per minute, The Public Theatre’s current production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” should have a good chance of grabbing the brass ring.
This side-splitting parody of the Sherlock Holmes story turns a tale of terror on the desolate moors of Victorian England into a mile-a-minute comic romp. The audience is kept in constant hysterics as the show’s three actors pile up one pun after another, and outrageous sight gags fly by at a rapid rate.
J.T. O’Connor is properly British as Dr. Watson. He played a much different Londoner on the TPT stage a few weeks ago as Scrooge in “A Christmas Carol.” In this show, Watson is sort of a narrator who at times attempts to sort out the plot twists, and some unexpected production complications, for the audience.
O’Connor also appeared at The Public Theatre in “The Nerd,” and “Rough Crossing.“ He was seen most recently on television in “The Good Wife” and “One Life to Live.”
Michael Frederic plays Holmes and Dan Matisa is Sir Henry Baskerville. That’s just for starters, because Frederic and Matisa each play five other parts as the show rolls along. The costume changes and character appearances are fast and furious, much like their multiple roles in last year’s extremely popular TPT production of “Around the World in 80 Days.”
Janet Mitchko, co-artistic director of The Public Theatre and director of “Hound,” said, “Theatre doesn’t come much sillier than this.” She said the work of these three talented actors matches much of the best from comic teams like the Marx Brothers, Martin and Lewis, or Harvey Korman and Tim Conway. In fact, one scene pays homage to Abbott and Costello as Holmes and Watson tip-toe backwards through a spooky room, circling and suddenly terrifying each other.
In addition to his appropriately egotistical portrayal of Holmes, Frederic is uproarious as Cecille, a seductive Spanish lady with an eye for Sir Henry. He also plays the mysterious Stapleton with eye patch and crutch, Barrymore the butler, Mrs. Barrymore, the sobbing housekeeper, and a peasant of the moors.
In addition to “Around the World in 80 Days,” Frederic has appeared at TPT in “A Christmas Carol” and “Deathtrap.”
Matisa’s several characterizations are also right on the mark. He plays Dr. Mortimer, a cab driver, and a couple of peasants who deliver a running gag with farm animals in burlap bags.
Among the funniest scenes takes place in a steam bath, where the three actors try their best to avoid some embarrassing circumstances.
The show’s special effects are every bit as imaginative and effective as the actors’ performances. Muppet-like figures are used for background scenes of the actors crossing the Grimpen Mire with its perilous quicksand. The live actors also perform hilarious antics as they navigate some of the dangerous paths through the moors.
One can only imagine the fun that’s going on behind the scenes as “bodies” fall off cliffs, sandbags drop and spectral hounds howl their warnings.
Credit for those production elements goes to set designer Jennifer Madigan, lighting designer Bart Garvey, costume designer Jonna Klaiber and sound designer Neil James.
This new comic version of the 1901 book by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is by British authors Steven Canny and John Nicholson.
Remaining performances are at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday, Jan. 31, and Friday, Feb. 1; at 8 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 2; and at 2 p.m. Sunday, Feb. 3. An additional Saturday matinee is scheduled for 2 p.m. on Feb. 2.
For tickets, call The Public Theatre box office at 782-3200 or visit the Web site at www.thepublictheatre.org.