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Review: 'Hound' at the Straz is a pack of laughs

Published Jan. 14, 2014

From books to television to the big screen, producers always wrap the classic tales of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson in mystery and wit.

Rarely, though, has the detective duo's portrayal been as laugh-out-loud funny as Jobsite Theater's The Hound of the Baskervilles, running through Feb. 2 at the Straz Center for the Performing Arts' Shimberg Playhouse.

Adapted by Peepolykus and Steven Canny, this Holmes mystery unravels on a simple set with a trio of male actors. Giles Davies plays Holmes, along with a number of other characters, David Jenkins portrays Dr. Watson, and Shawn Paonessa handles the role of Sir Henry Baskerville.

It all starts on a foggy night in Dartmoor, when the ghost of a hound kills Charles Baskerville. In the middle of the scene, as the hound growls, Charles breaks out of character to provide a humorous safety announcement.

"If you are afraid of loud noises, you may want to leave now," Davies says, joining Jenkins and Paonessa on stage.

This style, used several times, creates a greater connection to the actors, who flawlessly jump back into character.

After intermission, Davies, as himself, pretends to read an audience tweet claiming he had made the first half of the play drag. What ensues is one of the funniest parts all night: They replay the whole first half again, in superspeed, showing the quick costume changes and other movements.

They use every piece of the play to provide laughter, from the props to the character transitions. You could spot Davies as Holmes, crawling backstage to change costumes for the next scene. When Holmes carries a plate of food in front of Watson and Watson tries to eat it, Holmes turns the plate upside down, the fake food obviously glued to the plate:

"Why would you want to eat this?"

Though some of the script borders on corny — as when Holmes uses Watson as a chair — there are many more moments of comedic genius. Without the skilled facial expressions and chemistry among the three actors, the script could have fallen short.

When the three sit fanning themselves in a sauna, towels wrapped around their suits, I feel myself getting warm. When they bounce up and down, chasing a suspect in a cab down a bumpy street, I feel a little queasy. When Watson hasn't eaten in days and stares down a lamb in a bag for sale on the corner, I suddenly feel hungry for lamb.

Some of the funniest acting comes from the slow-motion scenes. They leave no detail out, from spittle slowly flying through the air during a fight scene to Watson's arm cocking back as he shoots his gun. This attention to detail is evident throughout the play, just as Holmes would have liked.

Davies is a standout — maybe because he plays seven roles, or maybe because two of those roles are women. From a pipe-smoking, cocaine-sniffing Holmes to the love interest of Henry Baskerville, each is convincing.

Arielle Waldman can be reached at awaldman@tampabay.com.

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