by Nancy Taube
Lost Nation Theater’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” begins with Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous story of the frightening murder of Sir Charles Baskerville on the moorlands. But then, like a breath of fresh autumn air, comedy pops off the stage and transforms this dark tale into a hilarious farce. Adapted by British Broadcasting Corporation writer, director and producer, Steven Canny with writer, director and actor, John Nickolson for the British comedy trio, Peepolykus in 2007, the play has been well received all over the world.
In the tradition of the Reduced Shakespeare Company, and following in the footsteps of “The 39 Steps,” their highly successful production last fall, Director Kathleen Keenan spoke enthusiastically about the production. “We really like this quick-change comedy style. It’s a real homage to the entire lineage of comedy.” In the British tradition of cross-dressing and pantomime, three male actors play all ten parts, male and female, as well as playing themselves. “Not only are you getting to meet all the characters the actors are playing, you get to meet the actors. The actors actually play themselves, playing these characters. This at once demystifies the theatrical experience and sets us up for even more comedy. And there’s a subplot to the actor who is playing the last remaining Baskerville whose life is at stake, being teased and terrorized by other actors and the tech crew.
“I think what is particularly wonderful about “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” and “As You Like It” is that this is a core team that has been working together for a number of years now, so that that kind of history, experience and knowledge of one another makes the rehearsal process and the show a lot more fun, which is communicated to the audience. It’s going to be a great time.
“The concept tying in both shows is the idea of lifting the stories off the page and onto the stage. So there’s an illustrated, paper quality to the design. We’re also doing some things technically, that we’ve never done before at Lost Nation Theater, like flying doors, fireplaces and trees in and out of the space. The design of both shows is quite ingenious. Janine Woods-Thoma, the scenic designer, has created a world that works for both plays — both with multiple locations, but with the moors of Dartmoor (“The Hound of the Baskervilles”) and the Forest of Arden (“As You Like It”) featuring prominently.”
With “As You Like It,” they are celebrating 20 years of Shakespeare at Lost Nation Theater with the revival of their first Shakespeare play. This enigmatic, pastoral comedy has been delighting audiences for four centuries and contains one of Shakespeare’s most famous monologues: “All the world’s a stage. And all the men and women merely players.”
Asked about the change in their approach to the play from 20 years ago, Director Kim Bent said, “we’re doing it differently this time. We’re thinking of it more as a storytelling than a play; taking away a lot of the artifice of the theater by using a minimum number of actors. “As You Like It” is a wonderful symphony about love. Multiple plot lines are playing different variations on the theme all the way through the show. There are actually four different couples that come together in the end. It’s really a celebration of love and romance, analyzed from different perspectives.”
Part of the celebration is a love poem contest. “Orlando, one of the characters in the play, is so enraptured with his love [of Rosalind], he’s creating love poetry and putting it on trees all over the forest. Writing poetry is a central image of the play, so we thought it would be nice to invite folks to write their own love poems. We’ll have one winner for each of the 15 performances, and each winner will have the opportunity to read their poem.”
And of course each show features a theme party. For the opening night, September 18, of “The Hound of the Baskervilles” there is “The Hungry Hound” after-party at New England Culinary Institute on Main Street. Opening night of “As You Like It,” September 25, they are hosting “ShakesBeer,” a pre-show reception in the theater lobby, catered by New England Culinary Institute, Sweet Melissa’s and Lost Nation Brewery.
Lost Nation Theater’s productions begin the September 17 and run through October. For information, call 229-0492, or visit www.LostNationTheater.org.