by Linda Lombardi, Literary Manager
Leading the charge in Ken Ludwig's world premiere play Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery, are the dashing and talented Gregory Wooddell as Sherlock Holmes and Lucas Hall as Doctor John Watson. A co-production with McCarter Theatre Center in NJ, the cast recently arrived at Arena Stage and has taken the theater by storm. Gregory and Lucas took a moment away from solving mysteries to discuss their iconic characters, an actor's life on the road, and the thrill of a world premiere.
What draws you to the iconic characters of Sherlock Holmes and Doctor John Watson?
GW: It’s a joy and a privilege to work on a character who lives in the hearts and minds of the world as profoundly as Sherlock Holmes does. It is a special challenge to portray a figure of such genius, passion, inspiration and danger. And it’s been an enlightening process in finding the man: a mix of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes, who has lived in our memories for decades, and my idea of Holmes as particularly applied to Ken Ludwig’s very imaginative and unique telling of The Hound of the Baskervilles. All in all, great fun!
LH: So much of being in the theater has to do with tradition. Learning from, paying homage to, and stealing from what's come before while adding our own perspective is essentially what's going on. It's a thrilling play that Ken has written. It incorporates many theatrical styles, old and new, and it has so much heart. Add to that the iconic characters from Conan Doyle and I can't imagine anyone not wanting to be a part of it.
What are the biggest joys and challenges about working on a co-production?
GW: It’s a wonderful experience to be able to work on a production with two different theaters and two different artistic families—and then to share what you’ve created together with two different cities. There can be logistical challenges to bringing a production, especially of a new play, to two different physical spaces. That requires a quick learning curve of how things need to adapt.
LH: I'm sure it's much more challenging for the theaters! For me it was, at first, scheduling where I was supposed to be when. And how I could rent my apartment in NY and still have a place to go with the time off in between venues. But then I gave up on all that and just decided I'd let someone else who's more organized tell me where to go and what to do! Our Company manager at McCarter, Becca Mayersohn, is amazing at making it all happen. And Andres Holder and the entire Company Management team at Arena have been amazing. On the artistic side, we shall see. It's interesting, though. Audiences' response tends to vary from city to city. We'll just do our play.
What creature comforts do you bring with you when you work away from home?
LH: The (insanely talented) Jane Pfitsch and I were talking about this recently. It can vary from job to job. Sometimes it's just clothes and such and sometimes it can be what feels like most of our belongings. It depends on how long I'll be away, the time of year, etc. However, I do ALWAYS bring three 'special' items: tennis balls (which I like to kick around my apartment during the rehearsal period), at least one item from my kitchen at home, and the complete works of Shakespeare. That's so nerdy, but it's true.
GW: I usually prefer to travel simply and pack lightly. I always bring a particular Buddha with me, as well as pictures of my wife and dog. And this time I brought my fish too.
Throughout the rehearsal process, you’ve been incorporating rewrites, discussing plot points, and developing characters. Any surprises you’ve discovered during the process?
GW: I’ve been so pleasantly surprised at how immensely collaborative the process has been between our director Amanda Dehnert, our playwright Ken Ludwig, and my fellow actors—Lucas Hall, Michael Glenn, Jane Pfitsch and Stanley Bahorek. We’ve all come together to create the clearest, most compelling story we can.
LH: It's the best part of working on a new piece. I've worked on a bunch of new plays and with this one I'd say that the most surprising part has been how well everyone has gotten along during the changes!! A lot goes into creating a piece for the theater. It's a vulnerable enterprise, really, so sometimes it can get heated. We have an amazing company and everyone is game for whatever makes the piece stronger. I'd say we are a passionate and opinionated group—without the ego. Our Director, Amanda Dehnert, has created a very safe atmosphere in which we can explore, goof around, and fail, while keeping us focused and on track. Playwright Ken Ludwig, Amanda, the entire cast and everyone at McCarter and Arena—you are my heroes. Let's do this.
If you were to describe the show in three words, what would they be?
GW: Mysterious Wacky Adventure!
LH: Theatrical. Inventive. Delightful.
(Photo: Gregory Wooddell and Lucas Hall of Ken Ludwig's Baskerville: A Sherlock Holmes Mystery at Arena Stage January 16-February 22, 2015 and McCarter Theatre Center March 10-29, 2015.)