SOLANA BEACH — Hardly, if ever, has there been a time when the mentioning of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” elicited an eruption of laughter.The Sherlock Holmes mystery about a savage hound wreaking havoc on a family of an English estate just didn’t seem to warrant it.
That is, until actor and writer Phil Johnson with partner and director Cynthia Stokes got hold of it.
“I realized it was an opportunity to do something really wild with something that everybody knows and kind of stand it on its ear,” Johnson said.
Johnson, a comedic actor, was a member in the Bravo sketch comedy company at Acme Comedy Theatre in Hollywood and who has also performed on Broadway, earned the San Diego Foundation’s Creative Catalyst grant for his first draft of his new show.
After receiving the grant, Johnson then rewrote the script and had a ball doing it, he said. Studying the mystery genre, Johnson delved into the works of Agatha Christie and Doyle, learning what went into writing a mystery, and from there Johnson said he just “exploded” it.
By exploding it, every reaction became bigger, every situation worse; every single thing was just blown up, and it became funny, he explained.
But Johnson said that Holmes wasn’t without his own sense of humor, it was just a very dry one. “He will say something amusing that most people won’t get; he’d constantly say things to Watson that Watson seems to kind of miss. And I personally, love that,” Johnson said.
And a lot of the humor in the show comes from Johnson’s portrayal of Holmes reacting to the absurdities happening around him and also his connection with the audience through a series of small takes and knowing looks.
Adding to the absurdities is that “The Hound of the Baskervilles” is a one-man show. Johnson plays all of the characters, quickly turning from one character to the next. “It’s all about switching, and the pace of the show gets faster and faster as the show goes on,” he said.
The direction by Stokes, is important, especially in a one-man show, which is so technical, Johnson explained. “Because you’re constantly switching people; so how do you look? Are your accents consistent? Is everyone following who’s telling the story at any one moment? That was actually the hardest thing writing, was making sure there weren’t too many people in the room at one given point,” he said. “And so the direction was critical of making sure this was working.”
The show does follow the story pretty closely, Johnson explained, but that it most closely resembles the 1939 MGM film version that starred Basil Rathbone.
The play, he said, is very much a whodunit.
What: “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
Where: North Coast Repertory Theatre, 987 Lomas Santa Fe Dr., Ste. D, Solana Beach
When: May 3 to May 4; 8 p.m. May 5; 2 p.m. and 8 p.m.; May 6; 2 p.m.
Tickets: northcoastrep.org, or (858) 481-1055