(This review is written by American-Statesman freelance arts critic Cate Blouke.)
ROUND ROCK — An outdoor amphitheater during a humid Austin summer doesn’t exactly scream “haunted English moor,” but the talented trio of actors in Penfold Theatre’s production of “The Hound of the Baskervilles,” playing through June 27 at the Round Rock Amphitheater, bring the classic tale to life with hilarious hijinks and amazing energy.
Appropriate for all ages, the show is a lovely option for an evening out with the family. Bring your coolers, camp chairs, and bug spray, and settle in for a play that makes even the most familiar murder-mystery intriguing.
Featuring Ryan Crowder (Dr. John Watson), Eva McQuade (Sherlock Holmes) and Toby Minor (Sir Henry Baskerville), the show is a delightful whirlwind of mystery and humor.
With meta-theatrical flourishes throughout and a dizzying array of characters, the actors treat audiences to an impressive and undeniably amusing performance.
As the protagonist and amiable ingénue, Crowder brings his indefatigable talent for clowning and gives us a hilariously lovable (and oddly trigger-happy) John Watson.
Eva McQuade is delightful as the show’s straight man when she plays Holmes and equally amusing in her flamboyantly weird alter egos.
Toby Minor’s talent for miming sets the show off to an energetic start, and Minor unabashedly throws himself into the comedy of the show to great effect.
The production does a whole lot with just a little, both in terms of only three actors for multiple parts and a very sparse stage and minimal props.
Paired with excellent sound design from Robert Berry, the action of the adventure comes to life through excellent mime work and the audience’s imagination.
Leanna Holmquist also deserves a special kind of praise for managing the quick costume changes and assortment of props backstage.
One of the quirks of the Round Rock space is its proximity to a train track, which adds an extra element of surprise to any show you’ll see there. Penfold has been offering summer performances here since 2010, though, so they’ve become adept at adapting. The unpredictable “train breaks” may be a nuisance for the actors but they tackle the challenge admirably and amusingly.
The second act opens with an exhilarating recap of the clues we’ve seen so far and it’s a mad dash to find the murderer from there on out.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles” Round Rock Amphitheatre, 301 W. Bagdad Ave., Round Rock. http://www.penfoldtheatre.org/about/2014_15/hound_of_the_baskervilles