A&E

Sherlock goes sidesplitting

'Hound of the Baskervilles' howls with hilarity

There's something about watching grown men go totally silly on stage that is incredibly funny and exhilarating, especially when those men are Ron Campbell, Darren Bridgett and Michael Gene Sullivan, three masters of comedy. It helps when the script is a clever adaptation of the famous story by Arthur Conan Doyle, "The Hound of the Baskervilles." The term "adaptation" is used loosely here to describe a rather free-wheeling romp through the story, in a not-at-all-veiled excuse for rampant theatrical fun.

Adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson, two well-known British theater mavens, the story does indeed follow the original, but with much merriment and hilarious hijinks. We begin with the world-famous detective, Sherlock Holmes (Campbell), taking on the mysterious case of the Baskervilles -- a family, which is said to be cursed. Multiple heirs to the family fortune have been killed on the grounds of the Baskerville estate in shocking and puzzling circumstances.

Legend has it that a gigantic, spectral hound is behind it all, but Sherlock is convinced there is human -- rather than supernatural evil at work. His trusted companion Dr. Watson (Sullivan) is sent ahead to Dartmoor to begin the investigation, along with Sir Henry Baskerville (Bridgett). Sir Henry is the last of his clan, newly arrived from Canada, and determined to claim his ancestral home.

Well, that's the plot, anyway, but can't possibly describe the zany way the exposition develops, or how many characters Bridgett plays before and after Sir Henry, or how often the actors speak directly to the audience with some amusing side note, or how fast the puns and double entendres pile up. The plot proceeds merely as a vehicle for wacky, riotous fun, and we are happily swept along in a sea of silliness.

Campbell's expertise as a clown is put to excellent use here, admirably restrained when necessary, but let loose to wild comic effect elsewhere. He becomes so many different characters, so quickly; it's impressive, as well as humorous. His Cecile alone is wonderfully weird. Bridgett deftly disappears into a multitude of roles, as well, and gets a chance to gleefully interact with the audience. Sullivan remains Watson throughout, but he's delightfully adept at physical comedy and a wide range of expression, with terrific comic skills. He also steps out of character to address the audience and attempt some clarifying narration.

Andrea Bechert's set is a marvelous trip back to 1900, with an interactive proscenium arch and faux footlights, as well as clever use of flying and moving set pieces to quickly change locations. Two stagehands (Jed Parsario and one unnamed) become additional characters in the show, devilishly wielding smoke machines and running interference. Lighting by Steven B. Mannshardt creates amusing effects and helps establish locale. The sound design by Cliff Caruthers contributes another layer of fun to the production, several times the source of laughter. B. Modern's costume design almost steals the show, as the myriad outfits add tremendously to character definition and overall wackiness. The astonishingly quick changes become a noteworthy part of the action.

Director Robert Kelley obviously had great fun working with this inspired cast, talented production team and smart, madcap script. This just might be the funniest two hours you will spend in a theater this season.

What: "The Hound of the Baskervilles," by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, adapted by Steven Canny and John Nicholson; presented by TheatreWorks

Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View

When: Through April 27, with 7:30 p.m. shows Tuesday and Wednesday; 8 p.m. Thursday to Saturday; 7 p.m. Sunday; and 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Sunday

Cost: Tickets range from $19 to $73; special discounts for under-30, educators, seniors.

Info: Go to www.theatreworks.org or call 650-463-1960

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