There is comfort in the familiar, a saying as true for the arts as it is for life. It is laudable to develop new works and take artistic risks, but tending the well-worn paths of the classics also is important. Like your favorite meal, a classic can be enjoyed again and again.
That is the appeal of Studio Players' latest production, The Hound of the Baskervilles, one of Arthur Conan Doyle's most celebrated Sherlock Holmes stories, adapted for the stage by Tim Kelly.
In the play, Holmes is summoned to a small village in Devon, England, after yet another member of the aristocratic Baskerville family is allegedly murdered by the diabolical dog that is rumored to stalk the foggy moors of the countryside. But what or who is really behind the Baskerville murders?
The heavily atmospheric show is a classic British whodunit, full of suspicious characters, a grim but eerily majestic setting and, of course, Holmes' legendary powers of deduction.
Director Gary McCormick's faithful rendering of the Holmes experience is most strongly felt in the show's design elements — but the play's performances are occasionally hindered by the same standards.
A sumptuous set design by David Bratcher invites the audience into the lush, stately Baskerville Hall, its ornate décor a striking contrast with the wild, misty moor that lurks outside its doors. Ellen Hellard and Sarah Kelley's well-wrought period costuming adds rich layers to the visual tableau of the aristocratic setting. Spooky sound effects by Ross Carter and chilling lighting by Lynda Matusek suggest that the curse on the Baskervilles might indeed have some supernatural origin.
That is, of course, until Holmes debunks superstition with his superior intellect, deduction skills and requisite self-important swagger. Rusty Rechenbach is well cast as Holmes, bringing the necessary mix of gravitas and wry humor to the legendary role. Rechenbach's best moments are when he asks questions to which he already knows the answers. Those moments include his calculated interrogations of Kathy Stapleton and Laura Lyons, both played with charm and veiled deception by real-life sisters Courtney and Caitlyn Waltermire, respectively.
Animated performances by Graeme Hart as Dr. Watson, Kody Kiser as Jack Stapleton, Evan Sullivan as Sir Henry and Sharon Sikorski as Lady Agatha add depth to the ensemble of supporting characters.
That said, the entire ensemble lacks cohesion, and sometimes characters are at odds. I noticed a couple of line collisions on opening night, but what is most problematic for the players are the kaleidoscope of accents they attempt with varying success. It is impossible to divorce Holmes from the uber-Britishness of Doyle's tales, so it is understandable why McCormick would employ dialect coach Patti Heying. But sometimes it is best just to let actors use their own voices if the effort to wield an accent restricts their characterizations.
Finally, it's not clear whom to credit, but the moor itself is a palpably terrifying character and gives this tale an extra flavor of ghoulishness compared to your average murder mystery.
IF YOU GO
'The Hound of the Baskervilles'
What: Tim Kelly's stage adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes mystery produced by Studio Players.
When: 8 p.m. March 15, 16, 22, 23, and 2:30 p.m. March 17 and 24
Where: Carriage House Theatre, 154 W. Bell Ct.
Tickets: $19, $11 students. Available at the Singletary Center for the Arts ticket office. Call (859) 257-4929 or go to Singletarycenter.com.
Candace Chaney is a Lexington-based writer.