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The Journal Gazette

  • Photos by Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Michael Coale, left, as Sherlock Holmes, and Jim Matusik, portraying Watson, star in for First Presbyterian Theater's production of “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery.”

  • Matusik, right, and Todd Frymier share a scene in “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” premiering tonight.

  • Morgan Spencer, left, and Jim Nelson make one of their many costume changes for the production.

Friday, September 08, 2017 1:00 am

First Pres finds laughs in Sherlock Holmes send-up

If you go

What: “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery”

When: 7:30 p.m. today, Saturday, 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 ages 65 and older; 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


Michael Coale, actor

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.

On the web: Coale talks about his first experience with Sherlock Holmes, the effects theater has had on his life and more at

Sherlock Holmes has solved cases hinging on a variety of things such as orange pips, plaster busts of Napoleon and a speckled band that turned out to be a snake.

As First Presbyterian Theater opens its season, the famed British detective embarks on one of his most famous adventures – with a twist.

Humor is afoot in “Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery,” which takes a farcical look at Holmes solving “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” Holmes and Watson, played by Michael Coale and Jim Matusik, respectively, are as serious as ever while trying to work out the mystery. Meanwhile, Todd Frymier, Jim Nelson and Morgan Spencer rapidly switch between more than 30 other characters in the comedy.

Director Christopher J. Murphy says the audience is in on the joke as the three performers sometimes switch characters and costumes right on the stage.

“Our costume designer, Pam Good, is furiously sewing Velcro into everything that she can find,” Murphy says with a laugh. “Pretty much every time those three people switch characters, they do some sort of costume change.”

“Baskerville” was written by Tony winner Ken Ludwig and debuted in 2015. First Presbyterian is one of the first non-professional theaters to be granted a license to produce it.

Ludwig was inspired by a show called “The 39 Steps” for the quick character changes in “Baskerville.” Murphy directed Arena Dinner Theatre's production of “The 39 Steps” in 2012, and reunited several members of its cast for the Sherlock Holmes send-up at First Presbyterian.

While the audience might not think of Sherlock Holmes stories having many humorous elements, Murphy says Ludwig's philosophy is that mysteries and comedies have a lot in common in theater. He compares both genres to a jigsaw puzzle that you shake up to create chaos at the beginning of a show. By the end of the performance, you have put the pieces back together.

Murphy says he is thrilled to be able to direct “Baskerville” because some of his earliest memories are sitting in front of TV with his father watching old Sherlock Holmes movies starring Basil Rathbone. Since then, he has read all the stories and watched other TV and film adaptations, but this is the first time he has been involved in a Holmes production.

“I primarily direct comedies, but I love mysteries,” he says. “I love Sherlock Holmes.”

– Corey McMaken, The Journal Gazette