If you go
What: "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery"
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday, Saturday and Sept. 15, 16, 22 and 23; 2 p.m. Sept. 17
Where: First Presbyterian Theater, 300 W. Wayne St.
Admission: $20 general admission; $18 seniors; free for the first 30 students with a reservation at each performance, $10 after or if bought at the door; 426-7421, ext. 121, or FirstPresbyterianTheater.com
Preview performance: 7:30 p.m. Thursday; $12
Michael Coale plays Sherlock Holmes as First Presbyterian Theater opens its season with "Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery," a send-up of the classic detective story.
Holmes and Watson (Jim Matusik) play it serious while Todd Frymier, Jim Nelson and Morgan Spencer go for laughs as they rapidly switch between more than 30 other characters in the comedy.
Coale answered some questions via email. Responses have been edited.
Q. What was your first experience with Sherlock Holmes?
A. The first encounters with Sherlock that I recall are having a Sherlock story in a collection of classics for children, though I don't remember which story it was, and the 1985 film "Young Sherlock Holmes." That may not be the most auspicious beginning, but it gave me a broad view and an interest in the character.
Years later, I had been injured at work and was at home recuperating for a while. I found digital copies of the complete Sherlock Holmes and read through quite a few of them. His almost magical use of logic is endlessly entertaining and it's fun to try to suss out the answers along with him.
Q. What is the closest you have come to having a "Sherlock Holmes moment" in your life – something like figuring out a difficult puzzle or knowing some bizarre piece of trivia that wows the crowd?
A. I'm a huge fan of trivia. That came up in my interview for my current job. The supervisor tried to stump me and I was able to answer all his questions. Maybe that helped me land the job! He still comes by my desk to ask me questions or see if I have any fun facts for him, which I usually do. I also have taken part in a number of trivia contests, generally with an old friend of mine. We both have a lot of general knowledge, a great deal of pop culture trivia, and he covers what I lack in sports stats. We won contests for money, free drinks, and sometimes more free drinks than could reasonably be consumed in one sitting.
Q. How hard is it to play the "straight man" when there are so many comical things going on around you in a show like this?
A. It has certainly been an interesting acting exercise! I had to be away from rehearsal for a few days. When I came back, the cast had fleshed out their characters and added bits that weren't there when I'd left. It's a good thing I can get a few laughs out in rehearsal.
Jim Matusik (Watson) and I play it straight, for the most part. So, we focus a lot on making sure the details of the story are coming through clearly while the other three are having a blast with various bits of shtick.
Q. Aside from memorizing lines and staging, what do you do outside of the theater to prepare for a show?
A. It really depends on the role. Generally, I avoid watching other performances, for fear that I would inadvertently lift portions of another actor's portrayal. If the character is historical or based in part on a historical figure, I will perform pertinent research. It's surprising sometimes how small facts about someone can inform a performance.
From early on in my reading of this show, I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to approach Sherlock. Therefore, I was less afraid of being swayed by what someone else had done before me. Shortly after being cast in this production, I remembered that I had gotten the complete Sherlock Holmes collection on audible about a year ago. So, I switched from podcasts to the stories of Sherlock and Watson. This helped me immerse myself in the character even more.
I also watched Basil Rathbone in "Hound of the Baskervilles," and a bit of Peter Cushing.
Q. If there's some alternate universe where you never stepped on the stage, what has that person missed out on?
A. Theater has shaped so much of my life. It is an amazing feeling to collaborate with a group of people, put literal blood, sweat, and tears into a project, and end up with this live performance that is different from any before and will never be replicated. Each production is a singular experience.
My first professional show went from sing-through to opening in 11 days. It was thrilling and I loved every minute. I have done shows that were one night only, and some that ran for most of a year. I've worked with a cast of two and with a cast of over 60. I've worked in literal black boxes, and I've performed in 1,000-plus seat houses nearly a century old.
The theater has lifted me up when I've been at my lowest and afforded me the opportunity to see a great deal of the country. Working on the stage, in my opinion, gives one an excellent work ethic and a willingness to pitch in where needed. I met my wife because she happened to be working with a friend I had performed with years before. The second time I saw my wife, Allison, we showed up to see the same play and sat by each other. I don't know who I'd be today without the theater.