“As you value your life or your reason keep away from the moor”

Although it may not be safe to cross the moor at night, it certainly is safe to cross the hills ringing the San Fernando Valley, and to venture north to Saugus to see “Hound of the Baskervilles” at the Reperatory East Playhouse. That’s what we did last night, and we certainly weren’t disappointed. You might even say it was “Elementary”.

The Hound of the Baskervilles” is a classic Sherlock Holmes mystery, first published in 1901 in The Strand magazine. It was written by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle right after “The Final Adventure”, which we saw dramatized at The Pasadena Playhouse in June 2006. It was adapted for the stage by F. Andrew Leslie. The story deals with the curse of the Baskerville family and the fiendish killer-hound that stalks its members. As the action begins Sir Charles Baskerville has died under mysterious circumstances, and his nephew and heir, the young Sir Henry, has been threatened even before his arrival at Baskerville Hall. A friend of the family and former colleague of Dr. Watson, Lady Agatha Mortimer, enlists the aid of Sherlock Holmes to protect Sir Henry from the supernatural hound and find the real killer. This leads to a series of events that build steadily in menace and suspense involving the staff of Bakerville Hall (Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, Perkins) and the families living in and around the Moor (Kathy and Jack Stapleton, Laura Lyons). Hard pressed to protect his charge, and to fathom the strange mishaps which beset him, Dr. Watson is much relieved when Holmes himself appears to trap the diabolical killer who stalks Sir Henry and to unravel the fascinating mystery which accounts for his evil actions.

We always enjoy going to REP East productions. The primary reason is that they do such an excellent job, especially given the fact that they are an 81 seat black box theatre, off the main beaten theatre path, and do not charge an outrageous price for their tickets. That was certainly the case at this production. In fact, I was hard pressed to think of a single flaw in this production (the only ones that come to mind are perhaps one line hesitation, and I wasn’t crazy about the style of a character’s shoes… and if that’s the best this professional problem finder can find, they did damn good). I’m not even sure the great Sherlock Holmes himself would have found major problems in this product. I think this is because of the second reason we go to the REP: they care. They care about their audiences (and they REP people are like family), they care about their actors (selecting, training, and rehearsing them well), and they care about the material (selecting good material and ensuring it is presented it right). This theatre is a hidden gem; well worth the drive to Santa Clarita.

As noted above, the cast of this product was excellent. The lead investigators were the very precise Michael Levine as Sherlock Holmes as Kyle Kulishæ as the very rotund Dr. Watson. Both captured the nature of these well-known characters well: the precision of Holmes, the familiarity and warmth of Watson. Todd Larsenæ was Sir Henry Baskerville, and did a great job of capturing the youth and naivete of the man, as well as fear as the hound got closer. Sir Henry’s love interest, Kathy Stapleton (Amber Van Loon) — a REP regular — captured the relaxed youth and beauty of the character well, with some wonderful flashes of anger when dealing with her brother, Jack Stapleton (Jaimie Callahanæ). The remaining moor residents that we met (as opposed to mere mentions) were Lady Agatha Mortimer (Alysan Marie Aachen) and Laura Lyons (Carolyn Morseæ), both of whom were great. Lastly, the staff of Baskerville Hall (Donna Marie Sergi (Perkins), Janice Christensen (Mrs. Barrymore), and Brent Christensen (Barrymore)) did an excellent job of supporting the action, in particular Mr. Christensen apparent menace as Mr. Barrymore. Reviewing the program, I note he teaches drama at Hart HS in Newhall — his students must be very lucky. Wouldn’t it be great if he were at Van Nuys?

The set of the show, which was an elegant drawing room at Baskerville Hall, was well designed by Jeff Hyde. The costumes by Lynn McQuown were good, although Holmes wasn’t in his traditional Deerstalker cap. The lighting by Tim Christianson was excellent as usual, and the sound by Steven “Nanook” Burkholder was appropriately menacing. These are all REP regulars, and they are a key part for the technical excellence of this place. The production was directed by Joe Miele, and Johnny Schwinn served as Stage Manager.

The Hound of the Baskervilles” continues at REP East until October 17th; tickets are available through the REP Online Box Office or call (661) 288-0000. The final show of the 2009 season will be “M*A*S*H”, running November 13th through December 12th. Earlier this week, the REP announced their 2010 (MMX) season, and it looks to be spectacular. No dates yet, but the productions are: “Lost in Yonkers” (Neil Simon); “On Golden Pond” (Ernest Thmpson); “12 Angry Men” (Reginald Rose); “The Wedding Singer” (book by Ehad Beguelin and Tim Herlity, music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Ehad Beguelin), “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot” (Stephen Adly Guirgis); “Sideman” (Warren Leight); “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” (Robert Louis Stevenson, adapted by Jeffrey Flatcher), and “Amadeus” (Peter Shaffer). These are all excellent selections (and O promised that Wedding Singer will happen this year), and I’m looking forward to the entire season. I’ll also note that this is sort-of a scoop: they don’t have the 2010 season listed yet on their website, so you read it here first.

Upcoming Theatre: As for us, our next show is this Monday, October 5, when we go out to the Steve Allen Theatre for the next installment of “Steve Allen’s Meeting of Minds” (Episode 3: Marie Antoinette, Karl Marx, U.S. Grant, and Thomas More) at the Steve Allen Theatre (ticket info). We’re still debating whether to go see Groovelily doing a concert version of “Sleeping Beauty Wakes at the Largo on October 7th at 9pm — we want to see the show, but it starts very late and I work the next day. No theatre is currently scheduled for the weekend of October 10, but I’m open to suggestions. Sunday October 18 we’re seeing the Donmar workshop version of “Parade” at the Mark Taper Forum, and the month of October closes with “Guys and Dolls” at Cabrillo Music Theatre. Halloween weekend is currently open. The following weekend is currently blocked off for “A Day Out With Thomas” at Orange Empire Railway Museum (although we may do it Veterans Day instead). The following weekend Erin is going to the TMBG concert at UCLA, while we will attending Havdalah with Peter Yarrow at the American Jewish University. On November 22 at 2pm we return to REP East Playhouse for “M*A*S*H”. Thanksgiving weekend is currently open; however, it might be taken by a shift of our production for the following weekend(“Baby Its You” at the Pasadena Playhouse, December 5 at 8pm), due to the fact I head out the morning after we see it for ACSAC in Hawaii. That same weekend (December 3, 4, 5) also brings “The Taming of the Shrew” at Van Nuys HS — we’ll likely be going to the Friday, December 4 performance. The rest of December is currently open, but I know that sometime in December I’ll be attempting to ticket “Mary Poppins” at the Ahmanson. There will also likely be additional episodes of “Meeting of Minds”. As always, I’m looking for suggestions for good shows to see, especially if they are on Goldstar or LA Stage Tix.