‘Baskerville’ is a prime example of what community theater can achieve

Scott McCrea, for the News-Miner

FAIRBANKS — I see no reason to bury this factoid later in the review so let me put this on the table right at the top. The Fairbanks Drama Association’s production of “Baskerville” is about as close as you are going to come to having an absolutely perfect community theatrical experience. The show is one of those rare moments where every potential aspect of theater comes together with nary a flaw, from acting to lighting to set design to sound effects and more.
Cast members from “Baskerville — A Sherlock Holmes Mystery” recreate the inspection of a murder scene at the Baskerville property. Three actors play a total of 26 characters, lending the play a theatrical feel.

This is all the more remarkable when you consider the fact that the play was set up for the potential of things not going smoothly. For starters, you have three performers playing the part of 26 — yes, 26 — characters, which requires enormous talent not to mention all that has to be done behind the scenes with exceptionally dedicated (and all volunteer) costume assistants, dressers, props specialists and more.

But yet, “Baskerville” overcomes those handicaps, even with a rookie director who more than proved his worth, Heath Robertson, at the helm.

“Baskerville” is a first class show that will go down in FDA history as being what I strongly feel is one of its finest executed plays in recent years as well as one that most likely dominates at the ticket booth over the next two weeks, so get your tickets in advance or miss out. The opening night production that I had the good fortune of witnessing included a very enthusiastic audience, some of which, I will admit, were drawn into seeing the play by virtue of the fact that two of the performers are closely associated with a local dive bar (that this reviewer has been known to visit as well).

But, you know, that’s what I love about this play more than anything. A good friend of mine on Facebook admitted that she always says she is going to go and do something different in Fairbanks, take in a local play, etc., and “Baskerville” is the play that drew her out of her comfort zone and into the awesomeness that is the Fairbanks theater scene. If “Baskerville” achieves that with others, then, that is a solid win.

Written by Ken Ludwig, “Baskerville” is a satirical standup of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of Baskervilles.” The play features Natalie Neubauer in the role of Sherlock Holmes with Nick Nappo as his faithful partner in solving crime, Dr. Watson. Neubauer and Nappo are a fantastic duo.

Neubauer’s gender-bending performance works on a number of levels, and you quickly lose sight of the fact that Sherlock is a #shelock (currently trending), aside from some subtle references here and there for comedic purpose. She portrays the iconic character of Holmes in a manner that is droll and often times subdued, and wonderful to watch from start to finish, even with surprisingly limited stage time. Nappo, always the quintessentially talented thespian, is equally charming as Watson, who also serves as the narrator of the play.

Then you have the hat trick of Samuel McKeirnan, Raleigh Johnson and Julia Hnilicka who portray the aforementioned 26 characters in a dizzying and comedically brilliant array of costume changes, accents, physical mannerisms and more. Sometimes the character change occurs backstage, sometimes right before our very eyes with drop-dead solid timing. All three of them offered different strengths that made their portrayals an absolute joy to watch. Perhaps the most enjoyable part was watching how much they were enjoying what they were doing, and I can only imagine the hours upon hours of rehearsal that went into bringing the characters to life.

“Baskerville” doesn’t just rely on the strength of its cast; of equal importance are the people behind the scenes. Stage Manager Doris Callaway had within her team some exceptional people who were probably just as stressed as the performers were on opening night, in particular, the dressers (Terri-Lynn Coleman, Jen Harvison, and Kay Hall) who had the responsibility of navigating the performers through all of those costume changes.

Adding to the mix are special effects that are the icing on the cake for the production, with light designer Bill Wright (along with lighting advice from Jonathan Huff with Alaska Universal Productions), sound designer Kevin Zayas, carpenter Tom Clausen and others working together to transform the stage of the riverfront theater into a haunting atmosphere perfect for the setting of the play. I loved the use of the lighting to create larger than life silhouettes of the performers that, at times, loomed over the entire stage.

Winter is here. Some people get drawn into doing nothing but staying within their comfort zone and taking in an Ice Dogs or Nanooks hockey game. Others stick to the local arts and culture scene. Some people do nothing and hibernate while foolishly lamenting there is nothing to do in Fairbanks.

I would encourage everyone to open up their minds to everything our community has to offer. There is certainly no shortage of it. Arts people should experience the thrill of watching a local hockey game just as the sports crowd should take in the talents of the theater scene. Do things you normally wouldn’t do. Get out of the house. The alternative is a waste of time. And defies the purpose of living in the Golden Heart of Alaska.

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