Don’t expect thrills, chills and horror from The Hound of the Baskervilles, currently at Ithaca’s Hangar Theatre — just non-stop hilarity for two gleeful hours.
All the ingredients are there from Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic 1902 Gothic mystery tale: the curse upon an ancient family; the dark and foggy night upon the moor; the bone-chilling howl of some unseen beast; the gloomy mansion; the unexplained cries in the night; the creepy servant; even Conan Doyle’s elevated diction in describing “those dark hours when evil is exalted.”
His tale has gone through many reinterpretations over the years, but none so hilarious as this adaptation by Steven Canny and John Nicholson. In this comic merging of Monty Python and Sherlock Holmes, three immensely gifted actors play some 15 different characters (I lost count), using all the tricks up the many sleeves of their rapidly donned disguises to tell the convoluted tale.
The real fun is that the audience is in collusion with the actors from the start. There is no pretense at pretense. Holmes (the fleet-tongued Dan Domingues), convinced that the sudden death of all the Baskerville heirs is a case worthy of the world’s greatest detective, sets out with Watson (an excellent Bruce Warren) to find the only surviving heir. They locate the towel-clad Sir Henry (a very appealing Steve Pacek) in a steam room, or at least next to a steaming bucket (the bare thrust stage offers the minimum of props), so they decorously wrap a towel over their Victorian street apparel. Lacking any pockets, Sir Henry pulls from under his bum the mysterious letter warning him not to return to his ancestral home.
So off they go, bouncing rhythmically on their suitcases on the train to Dartmoor, with the actors using any means they can devise to create an illusion. Once arrived on the moor, Watson slowly sinks behind his suitcase into quicksand and is saved by a sinister one-eyed cripple, one of the many suspicious characters he encounters, including a Spanish senorita (Domingues with mantilla and an exotic gown over his suit pants) with whom Sir Henry promptly falls in love.
At the start of the second half, in response to an alleged complaint tweeted during intermission by a disgruntled audience member that the first half dragged, the cast decides to reprise the show from the start, this time at breakneck pace. In this sped-up version, Dominguez merely holds the senorita’s gown against his body and the towels of the steam room shrink to strategically placed napkins. Somehow all three performers manage to hold on to their splendid clarity of articulation throughout.
Mark Shanahan, who has already directed this virtuosic piece at several different theaters, comments in his program note that every good actor knows that “dying is easy, comedy is hard.” He and his cast are masters of this difficult art. Running through Saturday, July 25, Hangar’s Hound will make audiences howl with laughter.