The setup: Let's set you up, first. You obviously need something to do with yourself this long weekend, based on last night's two-hour-plus karaoke rotations, and now that the chick who sang "Don't Stop Believing" has doubtless been murdered, you can get some investigative tips from Holmes and Watson at Bitch of the Baskervilles, a short new play that's here on a three-day stop on a two-city tour, i.e., get a move on.
A Toronto troupe called Socratic Theatre Collective has collaborated with Current Theatrics, which provided Philippines-born, Dublin-educated, Las Vegas-residing director Ruth Pe Palileo, to produce S. R. Kriger's Bitch of the Baskervilles this weekend in Phoenix and next weekend in Vegas. It's a short, gender-blended parody of the Conan Doyle story with adorable, sexy, steampunky costumes (including the first tiny deerstalkanator hat I've ever seen), some nice, goofy acting choices, and subtly self-referential jokes about literature, stage conventions, and gender [insert noun here].
The execution: This show, just about exactly an hour long, reminds me of the very long sketches people tend to write in high school when the iconoclastic nature of parody first becomes extremely appealing, except that Kriger and the company are much bolder and brainier than we were in high school. Erin Marie Estes, a tall actress who's also a bona fide Vegas showgirl, displays comparatively little cleavage but a sparkling grasp (let's mix a metaphor with this morning's smoothie) of physical comedy, as she not only plays multiple characters (mostly Henrietta Baskerville, a nymphomaniacal American heiress) but, when required to flee in what is generally terror, capers across Trunk Space's tiny . . . okay, let's call it "stage" -- like a marionette operated by a drunken meerkat.
Socratic's artistic director, Liz Bragg, plays Dr. Watson, who narrated virtually every Sherlock Holmes story and takes on a similarly major role in this one, her first discovery being that her character has been morphed into a woman, and, it's impossible for either Watson or the audience not to notice, a woman with full, Jessica Rabbit-style jugs that remain on the verge of defying the laws of physics, making it possible to make multiple jokes about "busts . . . of Napoleon."
Little blackboard-style backdrops on casters, evocatively painted by Ruby Palileo, allow the cast to establish settings as well as concealing costume changes and hilarious live sound effects. The mystery, whatever the hell it really was, draws from several other Holmes stories as well and emphasizes the boilerplate sameness that really is part of what's made the characters so beloved for more than a century, as well as a little sick of one another, as we discover eventually.
The verdict: Last night's première performance included some messy line problems and some Canadians who spit out their British-accented dialogue a bit too quickly and softly, but there was also an understudy who did a swell job, and it was on the whole fun and interesting. You have only two more chances! And the gallery seats a small audience.
Bitch of the Baskervilles continues through Sunday, May 25, at 1506 Grand Avenue. Tickets are $10 in advance here and $12 at the door. 602-256-6006 is answered when someone is around.
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