Three-person comic versions of famous tales are becoming quite the genre. From “A Tuna Christmas” (OK, two people) to the “Reduced Shakespeare” and “39 Steps,” you have a recipe that’s easy to follow, if a little predictable: straight man, funny man, man-who-plays-everybody-else. Lakewood Playhouse opened its season with “The Hound of the Baskervilles” in this style, courtesy of Britain’s Peepolykus Theatre — and while it’s not groundbreaking acting, it’s definitely a good laugh.
Jacob Tice deserves a minor medal for not only embodying the snobby, know-it-all Sherlock Holmes, but pretty much every side character in the play as well. With dexterity and just enough self-conscious flair he tosses personae on and off like hats (and sometimes with hats). From the suspicious, twitchy-eyed naturalist Stapleton; Stapleton’s fetching, fluttering “sister” Cecily; the hunchbacked, doddering butler Barrymore plus the nervous Mrs. Barrymore; a dorky train conductor; a local yokel; and so on, he’s flawless and funny.
Kayla Crawford isn’t nearly so successful as Dr. Watson: she captures the bumbling, A-for-effort attitude of Holmes’ sidekick but seems a little confused as to how switching genders for this role will actually play out in the character dynamics. And while she’s confident and sassy, her flip-flopping in English accent between Artful Dodger and Hermione Granger is distracting enough to be a problem.
Gary Chambers, meanwhile, plays the straight man with conviction. As Sir Henry Baskerville (and all the other Baskervilles, hunted down by a curse), he’s both gentlemanly and appealingly naïve.
Director John Munn keeps up a fluid pace that’s never breathless, occasionally a little slow, but brilliant in its use of the three-sided space.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles” lends itself to comic spoof, and this version leaves no gag unturned: contemporary anachronisms (cellphone, old chap?), caricature, prop gags, lighting jokes, physical humor and the sheer in-and-out circus of multiple characters — who will they be next? And the Lakewood cast and crew jump into the silliness with enthusiasm, breaking all walls between themselves, their audience and their characters and turning Sherlock Holmes’ world into something of which Monty Python would be proud.
None of this is groundbreaking theater. But it’ll make you laugh — and that’s the whole point, my dear Watson.
The Hound of the Baskervilles
Who: Lakewood Playhouse, directed by John Munn.
When: 8 p.m. Fridays-Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays through Oct. 9, also 8 p.m. Thursday (Sept. 15) and 22.
Where: 5729 Lakewood Towne Center Blvd., Lakewood.
Tickets: $25 adult; $22 military; $21 senior; $19 student and educator.
Information: 253-588-0042, lakewoodplayhouse.org.