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Meet the ‘Baskerville 3’ from freeFall Theatre

Bill DeYoung



Gang of Three: Robert Teasdale, left, Kelly Pekar and James Putnam. Photo by Bill DeYoung.

In the comedic cyclone that is Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at freeFall Theatre, the intrepid English detective and his ever-present sidekick, Dr. Watson, are surrounded by silly suspects and sundry suspicious types. More than 40 of them, in fact, all with motives to murder.

Following the clues to reveal the killer of Lord Baskerville, that’s the plot of this adaptation by Ken Ludwig. But the fun of the play is in watching Holmes (Eric Davis) and Watson (Matthew McGee) interact with the revolving door of British, Scottish, Welsh, Irish, American and “indeterminate” weirdos.

Because they’re all played by the same three actors.

Baskerville opened in late March, and nearly every performance has sold out. Audiences have fallen hard for Robert Teasdale, Kelly Pekar and James Putnam, who disappear offstage, only to return minutes (or milliseconds) later as another character altogether.

As the show enters its final week, the Gang of Three sat still – something they rarely do during a performance – to talk about their work.

“I wasn’t familiar with the show,” said Teasdale, who appeared in freeFall’s Rose and Walsh last season. “When I heard about it, I thought it was just Matthew and Eric. A two-hander, Sherlock Holmes and Watson. Then I read the script – and I couldn’t turn it down. It was so something I’d never done before.”

Added Pekar, a New York performer and freeFall favorite (she appeared in all seven shows during the company’s 2016-2017 season): “It’s an actor’s dream. I rarely if ever get cast in comedy, and I’ve never done anything like this. And it’s delicious. It’s so much fun to do so many different things in such a short span of time.”

From left: Pekar, Putnam, Teasdale. Photos: Thee Photo Ninja.

The dozens of quick changes required for Baskerville, they admit, was daunting at first – backstage collisions were a very real possibility. “I’d say now we’re sort of a beautifully organized chaos,” Pekar said. “Each of us figured out what we needed to do as individuals to sort of organize our various costumes and props. Each of us have our own system for doing it.”

Putnam is an Orlando-based actor making his freeFall debut. “We have all of this stuff ironed out, so when everything goes right, it feels smooth,” he explained. “But if I forget to check a coat, and one of my arms is inside of itself, that’s how I’m coming out … and I think that’s where the moment of chaos comes in.

“You wouldn’t notice it as an audience member, but we feel it – that two seconds that feels like two minutes – ‘I can’t get my arm in the coat!’”

A big part of the play’s effectiveness is knowing that when a new character is introduced, it’s going to be one of these three actors, dressed in a different costume, using a different accent and different posture. They interact with one another, and with Holmes and Watson, accordingly. The audience, therefore, is in on the joke.

And, Pekar said, if something goes a teeny bit haywire – one night, Putnam’s Italian-guy moustache fell off – they enjoy that. “They’re seeing something that is unique to this performance.”

The three give all props to Production Supervisor Trenton Szabo, who’s waiting backstage at every turn to help them drop one costume and throw on the next. “The difference between a hook and a hangar can make the difference between me making this change on time or not,” said Pekar.

Credit, too, goes to Davis (who’s also the show’s director) and McGee, said Putnam. “The team that’s surrounding me when I’m onstage, God forbid that something happens and I miss a cue, all of these people are so talented in what they do, the audience isn’t going to know, and I’m like ‘take a note for next time.’”

“One thing Eric said early on that was really helpful was to kind of approach each character like you’re the only one you’re playing in that moment,” Pekar explained. “Treating it like 14 mini-plays, as opposed to ‘now I’m doing this.’ Just staying completely present in whatever you’re doing. And at least for me, that really helps a lot.”

After three weeks, Teasdale offered, “I think it’s gotten a lot tighter, but also more relaxed. Everything’s so fast-paced. I just feel like, once the show starts, it just hums along now.”

Backstage, “I don’t deviate now. I have my thing that I do, and even if I figure out that something might be a little bit easier now, I don’t change it.” Added Putnam: “Because we’ve done it from beginning to end a few times now, we know what those paths are, we’ve kind of sanded them down, it makes us more confident or comfortable.”

Keeping things straight is an art form – particularly when the character-of-the-moment references another character, who is being played (in different scenes) by the same actor.

And no, they never “space out” and forget which accent which character is supposed to have.

“The script actually gives you a lot,” according to Pekar. “It’s pretty specific. Like when I’m playing Mrs. Barrymore, the Swedish undertaker with the glasses and the bonnet, her lines are written out in such a way that all of the V’s are replaced with W’s. Or it might even say ‘This nurse, at the top of Act 2, has an Irish accent.’

“It kind of becomes like choreography, or anything else that you just practice and practice in rehearsal, so that it’s consistent as it can be.”

Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery runs through April 23. Details and tickets are here.
















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