Genre-tales reinvented for the stage are nothing new, but lately we’ve been seeing some particularly original productions. Earlier this year we had a creepy, atmospheric spin on Algernon Blackwood’s “The Wendigo” and now director Rachel Klein, who did a doozy of a show earlier this year called “Go-Go Killers,” does a bang-up job with “Hound,” a surreal mad-house take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s classic tale “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”
John Patrick Bray has done an admirable job reinventing the classic Sherlock Holmes story — keeping the basic outline intact while playing fast and loose with a lot of the details and characterizations. Klein and Bray have come together to twist Doyle’s vision into a madcap, bizarre one-act show that at turns is hilarious and chilling.
While the tale follows a case technically under Sherlock Holmes’s supervision, “Hound” is really about trusty sidekick Dr. Watson, who is battling his own demons while desperately trying to solve the case of the recent bizarre death of Sir Hugo Baskerville, attributed to a family curse.
On paper, this production shouldn’t work — it’s full of loony, jarring characterizations, from a maid who breaks the fourth wall to talk about how small her role is, to Dr. Mortimer’s fetishistic obsession with skulls, to Watson’s own handy ability to speak with dogs. Many scenes are played for laughs, even when violence abounds, and it may be off-putting for Doyle loyalists.
You can chalk the success of this production largely up to the cast, which is phenomenal. Rarely has a cast so uniformly thrown themselves into their roles. No matter the part, each cast member has completely bought into the production’s wonky vision, and it gels beautifully, against all odds. Cavan Hallman as Dr. Watson terrifically grounds the show in reality, while he’s surrounded by the craziest cast of characters this side of “Rocky Horror Picture Show.” Particularly impressive standouts in the cast include Meredith Dillard and Abigail Hawk each taking duel roles, and Jack Corcoran as Barrymoore.
If there’s a downside, it’s that the humor and surrealism blunt the impact of the late-in-the-game drama — it’s hard to get too wrapped up in the fate of these characters when they’re cardboard to begin with. But even if the ending doesn’t pack the punch Doyle fans might hope for, you’ll have so much fun getting there that you won’t mind one bit.
While “Hound” ended its short run recently as part of the Planet Connections Festivity, hopefully it will get a second life somewhere soon. Regardless of the future of “Hound,” Rachel Klein, John Patrick Bray, and “Hound’s” cast are all talents to keep an eye on. They clearly understand how to bring genre fiction to the stage in a fresh, fascinating way.