By G. E. Shuman
The famous jazz musician, Miles Davis, is quoted as once saying: “Don’t play what’s there. Play what’s NOT there.” I was reminded of that admonition to the world of the fine arts as I was recently treated to Lost Nation Theater’s wonderful, comedic rendition of the classic thriller ‘Hound of the Baskervilles.’
Truthfully, on that Saturday night, I was simply captivated by the brilliant, hilarious, rapid-fire lines of those very talented Lost Nation actors. Crafting that classic story into comedy, and pulling it off flawlessly, was nothing short of a miracle of the stage. More precisely, it was many miracles of the stage.
My wife and I sat in amazement as we watched just three actors, Scott Renzoni, Leighton Samuels, and Christopher Scheer more than accomplish the feat of telling that entire, mystery-thriller-horror-detective story, superbly, and with side-splitting humor, no less. This, while seamlessly transforming into a total of nineteen characters throughout the play. Wow! The original work, by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, was carefully finessed into wacky comedy, by the writers of this funny version, John Nicholson and Steven Canny.
Adding to the visual appeal of the meticulously costumed (and ever changing) actors, was the unusual, ‘sketched’, set, and wonderful two-dimensional set pieces, which drew you deeper into the ‘pulp-fictiony’ scenes, the more you looked at them. To quote the play’s consummate director, Kathleen Keenan, “Paper inspires us first. Take the play—based on the novel—from the page to the stage.” BRILLIANT! (My word.) “We embrace the idea of illustrations. We embrace that danger is looming, so movement from one location to the next should reflect that. The next thing you know, everything (or nearly) in our world is 2D, with an ingeniously designed moveable unit that transforms to represent all the furniture, saunas, and hansoms.” (Hansom is an old English term for cabs.)
All of these edgy, set-transforming production ideas simply fascinated me that night. Somehow, those words of Miles Davis sprung to mind, as I thought about what I saw in those “Baskervilles” actors. “Don’t play what’s there, play what’s NOT there.” To me, this is what the writers, producer, director and actors accomplished. They took the (virtual) pages of a book, transformed them into the pages of a play, and molded those into TWO dimensional, if you can believe it, scenes, where the pages of the book can still be imagined, and the talent of the actors brings those words and pages to life. Astounding! (And, more importantly, totally worth seeing.)
As unbelievable as this might seem, The Hound of the Baskervilles actors, Scott Renzoni, Leighton Samuels, and Christopher Scheer, are joined by more Lost Nation professionals in presenting Shakespeare’s classic play, “As You Like It”, on the same stage, during the same weeks, on alternating nights. (Most of us would never attempt to learn the lines of one two-hour live performance. The Lost Nation actors have perfected two at once.)
At this publication date, there is little time left. Both plays run only until October 25. Also, remember the annual Poe Spooktacular on the 31st. Visit the theater’s website soon, lostnationtheater.org to purchase your tickets. Then get to the theater for some shows you will never forget!
Lost Nation Theater, City Hall Auditorium Arts Center, 39 Main Street, Montpelier VT. 05602 802-229-0492