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Murder, Deceit, Betrayal Come to McLean

Character development lies at heart of Great Falls Players' 'Hound of the Baskervilles'

A murder has occurred.

Everyone is suspect: Lady Agatha, Sir Henry, Jack, Perkins, Kathy, the Barrymores, even Watson and Holmes.

And everyone is guilty.

“The pacing is dead,” said stage manager Douglas Yriart to the Great Falls Players during rehearsal last Wednesday.

The cast got off-book only a week before, and the uninterrupted run-through did not go as planned.

At one point Lady Agatha didn’t even know where she was, as she called for a line, again. Yriart had an answer.

“You guys are in outer space,” he said.

The cast, as well as Yriart and director Robert Zeigler, laughed.

But by Friday, cast members will have to be at Baskerville Hall on Dartmoor, where Lady Agatha Mortimer (Columba Brumby) calls Sherlock Holmes (Peter Hadingue) and Dr. Watson (Alan Fuller) to investigate Sir Charles Baskerville’s death, in Tim Kelly's adaptation of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles.”

During the investigation, suspicion falls on sinister servants, ladies in distress, and escaped convicts, culminating in Holmes and Watson’s coming face-to-face with a fiendish killer-hound that stalks the moors and members of the Baskerville family (Great Falls Players Web site).

Although some of The Great Falls Players may have been "in outer space" last Wednesday, they were all in character, which for Zeigler is the most important aspect of the rehearsal process.

Last Wednesday, Zeigler had the cast form a circle for one of his traditional prerehearsal "fireside chats."

He reminded the actors that stage time is just a part of the overall lives of their characters.

"When they come on stage, they're coming from somewhere having done something ... and when they're offstage, they're going somewhere, too," Zeigler said. "The audience doesn't know what I just said, but the audience can appreciate that it makes the actor come across more as a real person."

In a play with such recognizable, often stereotyped characters as Watson and Holmes, this real-person persona is particularly crucial.

"[Watson's] so well known, it's almost like portraying a real person," Fuller said. "People certainly have an expectation."

While researching the character, Fuller found a biography of the doctor gathered from all of Doyle’s work.

"That really helped me to get to know who this character is," Fuller said.

Fuller believes Watson grounds Holmes, who is "out in these abstract intellectual concepts.”

"Holmes needs Watson to give him the facts and to keep him anchored in reality," Fuller said. "And Watson needs Holmes for the flights of fancy ... because Watson is not a very imaginative person."

HADINGUE BELIEVES THE rehearsal process is going quite well.

“This is quite normal for a couple of weeks [before opening],” Hadingue said. “The characters are starting to come out.”

In developing the character of Holmes, Hadingue was challenged by getting inside the head of arguably the most deductive mind in literature.

“It’s hard to play Holmes because his mind is so all over the place,” Hadingue said. “His mind is not necessarily in the moment. He’s about five steps ahead of everybody else.”

Hadingue chose to convey this internal reasoning by often looking away from characters and into the audience.

The script forces Hadingue to abruptly break from these pauses with detailed interjections.

“It’s quite difficult to learn lines like that because there is not a sequence,” Hadingue said, referring to the lack of conversational dialogue.

Although memorization proved difficult, one obstacle Hadingue — one of three native Brits in the cast — did not face was adopting an accent.

The actors speak in an upper-class dialect, with the exception of the servants, who had to learn a Devonshire accent for the part.

Zeigler enlisted the help of voice coach Naomi Frenkel to further the characters' depth.

This is the first time Susan Burke (Mrs. Barrymore) has had to speak with a Devonshire accent.

Frenkel helped Burke develop deep, guttural O's and pirate-like R's.

Zeigler is "happy with what he hears," and Frenkel will meet with the cast for the third and final time today.

ZEIGLER ATTRIBUTES HIS sensitivity to character by attending every community theater performance of his wife, Joan, after she moved from New York.

"By the third performance, I don't care how unlearned and neophyte a person you are, right away you can say, 'Oh ... he's off character,'" Zeigler said. "In the rehearsal process when [actors] are out of character, it's for technical reasons, [for example] if they've blown blocking or can't think of their line."

With technical difficulties behind them, the cast of “Baskervilles” will take the stage Friday.

"The actors make a commitment to learn their lines and develop their characters," Zeigler said. "And with enough rehearsals and preparation, they [are] able to put on incredible performances ... night after night."

With a two-month, character-intensive rehearsal process and months of advance research, by the third night, it's doubtful Zeigler will be heard saying, Oh....