Oklahoma City Theatre Company's production hits marks, misses spark 

All Hallows Eve was a good night to review a theatrical version of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's "The Hound of the Baskervilles." A few audience members came in costume, as Oklahoma City Theatre Company presented an adaptation of one of Conan Doyle's most famous stories.

Harvey Mackie's adaptation follows the novel pretty much to the letter. Sherlock Holmes is called upon to solve a murder and help the heir to the Baskerville fortune lift a curse that has hounded the family for generations. In the end, Mackie lets the story's villain off easy; Conan Doyle has him perish in Grimpen Mire.

The suitability of "The Hound of the Baskervilles" for stage adaptation is debatable. Mackie sets the play in the sitting room of Baskerville Hall in Devonshire, England. Thus, most of the action in the story takes place offstage and is told narratively with characters explaining to each other "? and to the audience "? what has happened. The effect is somewhere between hearing a staged reading of the story and watching a film adaptation. Actually, hearing the story read aloud would more effectively engage the imagination of the audience.

In the OCTC production, Baskerville Hall's sitting room was sparsely furnished for such wealthy landed gentry as the Baskervilles. But it's a good thing that it was, considering the way that director Deborah Draheim had the actors wandering around the stage.

The play gets off to a good start with Holmes and Dr. John Watson in one of those classic scenes that shows Holmes' extraordinary powers of observation. They examine a walking stick that they have found, and Holmes bests Watson by deducing a detailed profile of the stick's owner, right down to the size and breed of his dog.

One wonders about casting in this production. The cast includes experienced professionals, such as the effective Rich Bailey as Sir Henry Baskerville, and some newcomers. Doug Van Liew as Dr. James Mortimer, owner of the aforementioned walking stick, is a surprise, especially considering that Holmes just concluded that the stick's owner is "young." Christopher Curtis chews the scenery as John Stapleton, the story's villain, but he does give the character a certain appropriate creepiness.

Don Taylor, in a deerstalker cap, is well-cast and does a fine job as Sherlock Holmes. He even bears a slight resemblance to Basil Rathbone, the definitive screen Holmes.

Mackie's adaptation generally succeeds, and except for weak acting in some roles, the OCTC production does not have a lot of glaring errors. So why does the production fail to produce the desired effect?

Elementary, as Holmes might say. The show does not have that spark, that one element of refreshing or engaging staging, design or performance that gives the audience something to grab onto and go with. At times, the production seems like a slog through Grimpen Mire. 

"?Larry Laneer

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