The Game is Askew

Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson are called in to investigate the mysterious death of Sir Charles Baskerville and to protect his heir, Henry Baskerville, when he receives an ominous warning to stay away from the moor.  Is there a human hand guiding this evil or is there truth to the curse of the Hound of the Baskervilles?  Find out when you watch Baskerville by Ken Ludwig and currently playing at Bellevue Little Theatre.

I had been looking forward to this show all season.  Hearing the name “Sherlock Holmes” is like ringing the chow bell as I’ve been an avid reader of these mysteries since childhood.  As a result of this, I admit to being a bit biased when it comes to Holmesian entertainment.  But that bias takes the form of having rigorous standards whenever I watch a Holmesian production or read a Holmesian story.  With that being said, I am pleased to say that Ludwig’s take on this classic tale more than meets my standards.  It’s almost completely faithful to the original story and manages to add its own unique flavor with a high dose of farcical humor well executed by a contingent of comedic clowns.

Suzanne Withem is the ringmaster of this circus and she stages it as a classic Vaudeville production with a bare-bones set.  Her direction is sterling as she never allows the energy to wane and she knows how to mine the funny out of the production with a series of well-timed jokes and fourth wall breaking moments.  Ms Withem leads her actors to strong, brilliant performances with a pell mell telling of this mystery.

I salute the superhuman efforts of the 3 actors of the play (Kevin Goshorn, Sara Scheidies, and Guillermo Joseph Rosas) as they rotate between playing nearly 20 different characters requiring complete shifts in costume, body language, accents, and voice to portray the numerous roles.  Some examples of their stellar work are Goshorn’s highly Texan Henry Baskerville, his obnoxiously crude Inspector Lestrade who constantly hocks loogies and scratches his behind, and a hilarious cameo as a charwoman cleaning 221B Baker St; Ms Scheidies’ overwrought Mrs. Barrymore who overgestures and oddly shuffles her feet, her busybodying Mrs. Hudson, or her energetic Cartwright, one of Holmes’ Baker Street Irregulars; Rosas shines as the Baskerville butler, Barrymore who has a permanently stooped posture and a wonky back; the giddy naturalist, Stapleton who has an affinity for butterflies, and a proud Castillian concierge of the Northumberland Hotel.

I’d also like to applaud the work of the roustabouts, Kaitlin Maher and Gillian Pearson, who add their own humorous touches as they bring on props, make sound effects, and sometimes are the props.

Catherine Vazquez’s Dr. Watson is the show’s straight man and narrator.  She does a wonderful job exhibiting Watson’s stalwart loyalty to Holmes, his courage under fire, and his own keen intellect, though his powers of observation and deduction are far less pronounced than those of Holmes.  She does need to project a bit more to overcome BLT’s backbox nature.  Unlike the other characters, Watson needs to be the most grounded, which Ms Vazquez certainly was, but I think she still had some leeway to elevate his energy a bit.

Ben Beck is a pitch perfect Sherlock Holmes.  Not only does he well exude Holmes’ rude, unfriendly nature, but he also well communicates Holmes’ manic energy when the thrill of an investigation is on him.  Beck well handles Holmes’ complex dialogue as he often speaks in almost stream of consciousness cadences as he makes his rapid-fire deductions. And I was particularly impressed with how quickly he was able to transition from being Holmes to being the actor playing Holmes when miscues and other errors sprang up to throw off the Vaudeville troupe.

Brendan Greene-Wash has skillfully designed a cheap looking set of cutout woods and boxes that look like they could be packed up and whisked to the next town on a moment’s notice.  Zachary Kloppenborg’s costumes are spot-on and quite elegant from Holmes’ dressing gown, to Watson’s sharp suits, to the Texan garb of Henry Baskerville, the buttling suit of Barrymore, and the raggedy clothes of the Irregulars.  Joshua Mullady’s lights always enhance any production with the eerie ghostly lights used in the story of the curse of the Baskervilles to the shadowy night scenes in Baskerville Hall.

I thought I saw a few blips such as fading or dropped accents and the mixing of pronouns in regards to Watson, but as the show is presented as a troupe doing a production of The Hound of the Baskervilles, I can’t help but wonder if these “blips” were more subtle jokes to tie into the show’s running gag of little things going wrong here and there.  In any case, Baskerville is an extremely satisfying romp that does justice to a classic Holmes mystery while making bellies jiggle with laughter.

Baskerville plays at Bellevue Little Theatre through May 19.  Showtimes are 7:30pm Fri-Sat and Sundays at 2pm.  Tickets are $18 for adults, $16 for seniors, and $10 for students.  Reservations can be made by calling 402-291-1554 or visiting the web page at bellevuelittletheatre.weebly.com.  Bellevue Little Theatre is located at 203 W Mission Ave in Bellevue, NE.

Beware the Ides of Smarch, Days 7-9: Full Circle

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Thursday, March 7

The Vegas trip had come to an end, but we still needed to hit up my favorite breakfast place on our way out.  That, of course, was the breakfast buffet at the Gold Coast casino.  It is still the best dollar for dollar value buffet in Vegas.  For about $10, you get a lot of wonderful breakfast foods and they were in especially fine form this day.  Their legendary French Toast was in fairly fine fettle and they also had some great chicken fried steak and an excellent corned beef hash as well.

Properly fueled we began the long drive back to Phoenix.  Dave and I once again waged battle in Super Mario Party where he managed to get the duke over me.

We got back into town about 4:30pm and just relaxed until Carolyn came home from work.  Then we went to dinner at Venezia’s Pizzeria which specializes in New York style slices of pizza.  I had never had a proper New York slice before and my Buffalo Chicken slice hit the spot.

When we got back to the house, Dave, Mat, and I took a little walk around the area to work off the meal before settling in to watch the latest episode of The Orville before turning in for the night.

Friday, March 8

This was definitely an easy day for us.  Mat had a doctor’s appointment so Dave and I were left to our devices for an hour or so.  Mat came back with doughnuts from The Hurts Donut Company which are still the greatest doughnuts on the planet and I very much look forward to the branch coming to Omaha.  I savored an Andes Mint doughnut while Mat introduced us to the web series, Cobra Kai, which continues the story of Daniel LaRusso and his rivalry with Johnny Lawrence from the movie The Karate Kid.

It’s actually a very entertaining and interesting series.  The focus is mostly on the character of Johnny Lawrence and it’s nice to see William Zabka get to show some depth with a character as his heyday as an actor in the 80s pretty much had him playing one dimensional bullies.

When we watched half the series, I suggested we go out and play some mini golf to get some exercise and enjoy the weather.

So we hopped into the car and made our way to Golfland Sunsplash were we once again dueled on the links.  In some ways, it was the most entertaining round of mini golf I’ve played as I shot video footage of some of our toughest holes.  In some ways it was the worst round as I shot pathetically average.  In one sign of the apocalypse, I finished last to Dave. . .again.  In another sign of the apocalypse, Dave won the ace award (most holes in one).  This left me in a fog where I muttered over and over, “Dave?  Ace Award?”

We returned to the house and did our own thing for an hour or so until Carolyn came back from work.  For dinner we went to Rubio’s which is famed for its fish tacos.  I had a Wild Alaskan salmon taco with a side of fresh greens and it really hit the spot.

From dinner, we went to the movies to watch Captain Marvel, the latest blockbuster from Marvel.  I found it to be a decent film buoyed by strong performances from Brie Larson as the title character and Ben Mendelsohn as a sympathetic war victim.  I gave it a 7 out of 10 and was especially impressed at how Marvel altered the traditional origin story formula.

But it was back to homestead and bed as we readied ourselves for the final day.

Saturday, March 9

This was it.  The last full day of fun with Mat and Carolyn.

Mat and Carolyn slept in.  I rose at my usual early hour and was surprised to find Dave up and about already as he watched the news on his phone.  I ate a banana and the last 2 pieces of bacon from the batch Mat had prepared the previous Sunday.  After eating, I decided I wanted to go for a long walk and persuaded Dave to join me.

Except for the little nighttime excursion taken a few nights prior, I had never really walked around this neighborhood as I was under the mistaken belief that the area was just a few lanes of houses buttressed up against a business area.

How wrong I was.

Once you cross the street, there are actually quite a large number of houses, schools, and neighborhoods to enjoy.  Dave and I ambled for about an hour before returning to the house.

As each member of our group held a victory in Super Mario Party, we decided to crown a winner.  We played an abbreviated version where Carolyn decimated us.  I mean it wasn’t even close.  But I did finish in second place.

Carolyn left for the afternoon to visit her brother while the three of us finished Cobra Kai and noshed on some sausage sandwiches Mat prepared.  The sausage was tasty, but I could have eaten a sandwich consisting solely of the delectable vegetable concoction prepared by Mat.

About 4pm we headed to Scottsdale where we would close the adventure as it started:  with an escape room.

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We visited Escape Room 101 where our group was joined by Mat’s old friend, Rod, and his new girlfriend, Lisa.  In this room, we would be assuming the role of Baker Street detectives who were contacted by Oliver Byron, son of Lord Byron, the painter.  Oliver Byron had been approached by a cousin who held a will saying that he was the sole heir to Lord Byron’s fortune.  Oliver stated his father would never cut his children from the will and needed us to locate the real will before the reading of the fake.

The puzzles in this room were awesome and really required you to think.  The downside is that some of the devices activated by our solutions didn’t work as they should.  For example, Mat and I solved a symbols puzzles and nothing happened.  Mat unsolved and resolved it later which finally caused a hidden compartment to activate.

This one went down to the wire, but we managed to find the will with about 3 minutes remaining.  I would have combined the two rooms we had done as Blaine’s Basement had better presentation and pageantry while The Baker Street had better puzzles.

After another victory, we visited Carlos O’Brien’s for dinner which was a fusion of Mexican food and Irish pub fare.  I enjoyed a chicken and beef quesadilla while we conversed about various items.

Back at Mat and Carolyn’s we decided to have one final, all out battle at maximum turns on Super Mario Party.  It seemed as if Carolyn would crush us again, but we managed to start mounting a comeback.  However, my two “friends” decided to unfairly target me for purely their own amusement instead of focusing on the greater threat of Carolyn.  Dave stole a star while Mat stole my money to keep me from buying stars.  Due to their chicanery, Dave ended up winning and I vowed eternal warfare on both of them in all future games.

And so the end had finally come.  Having the old team back together added that x factor that made this trip quite a bit more fun.  Sadly, it will be a while before I see Mat and Carolyn again.  I may try a trip this summer or possibly even at Christmas as my family will be celebrating the holiday early.  Mat mentioned the possibility of road tripping to San Diego next time and that is a most intriguing idea indeed.

I see our first flight home has been delayed, so this trip really has come full circle.

Till the next adventure.

Step Back to the Unsurpassed Past at the Victorian Villa

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Well, it’s frigidly cold in Omaha today, so I thought it might be a good time to share just how I got so interested in bed and breakfasts.  So gather around while I put another coal on the fire and prepare yourselves to hear the tale of the Victorian Villa.

It was the spring of 2004 and I am an incredibly avid reader who especially loves to read mysteries.  On this particular spring day, it suddenly struck me that it might be fun if I could find a mystery weekend and actually experience a case for myself.  Off to the internet I went and began searching to see what I might be able to find.  When I included the name of Sherlock Holmes into my search, one of my results was for the Victorian Villa in Union City, MI.

I clicked on the link and was quite impressed with what I saw.  What really caught my eye was that one of the rooms in the Carriage House of the Villa was called the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber and the second floor of the Carriage House also contained a little museum dedicated to Sherlock Holmes.  Reading that sorely tempted me to make a visit to the Villa, but then I noticed that a mystery weekend was going to be held in April of that year.

I couldn’t say no to that, so I went ahead and booked the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber and was told I’d be contacted “by that nice Mr. Denham” of Shadowstalkers, the organization behind the mystery event.  Both Ron Gibson, the owner of the Villa, and that nice Mr. Denham sounded a little surprised when they found out I was coming from Omaha.  Most of the visitors to the Villa come from within a 2.5 to 3 hour radius and I was going to drive 10 hours to attend this event.

I’ll repeat that.

I drove 10 hours from Omaha to Union City to attend this event.  Little did I know that I would be so bowled over by the Villa that I would make that journey 3 more times over the next decade.

I still remember my arrival on that spring Friday in April 2004.  I was warmly welcomed to the inn by its innkeeper, Cynthia Shattuck, who brought me to the bar area where I met Ron Gibson and his son, Josh.  Ron gave me a hearty greeting and told me I was free to explore the house and could enter any bedroom with an open door (signifying no occupation by guests) and that I could take all the pictures I wanted.

I was absolutely mesmerized by the intricate beauty of the place.  I felt as if I had truly passed through a time warp as everything was authentically Victorian from when the place had first been built in 1876.  Even more amazing was the history of how the mansion was first built all the way through to its rebirth as the Victorian Villa.  This had truly been a labor of love for Ron whom I was told put in 18 hour days for several years to restore the Villa back to its original condition.

The Villa is known as the #1 inn in the Midwest and a well deserved reputation it is.  Aside from the beauty of the place, the inn was famed for its Sherlock Holmes weekends, Victorian Christmas weekends, and food.  The Villa has been featured in numerous articles and, I believe, on the Michigan PBS station.

One could spend hours just soaking in the scenery of the Villa and the meals have been some of the most enjoyable that I have ever eaten.  Over the years, I have had such delicacies as cream cheese stuffed French Toast, ox and barley stew, English Cheshire Cheddar Cheese Soup, and roast goose.  And the rooms are a unique treasure in and of themselves.  During my visits I have enjoyed the Sherlock Holmes Bedchamber, the Victorian Country Bedchamber, and Tower Suite South.

I’ve also been blessed to meet and become friends with many wonderful people such as Ron and his two sons, Josh and Zach, Cynthia, John Sherwood (a talented actor who sometimes plays Charles Dickens for the Christmas weekends), Ted and Rhonda Cowell and their Sherlock Holmes scion society, the Stormy Petrels of Maumee Bay.

As for my first visit, the mystery event was a great deal of fun, but more like a game.  A murder had been committed and some jewels stolen, so we had to figure out who done it and locate the missing jewels.  Each of us played a character (I was Ellery Queen), and had certain abilities we could use to obtain clues from other guests.  But. . .the killer was one of us and would be attempting to kill us before we could discover his or her identity.  As a solo player, I was a marked man as the killer could only kill you when you were alone unless he or she got the “mark of death” on you.

Luckily, I was occasionally accompanied by “that nice Mr. Denham’s” wife to offer me some protection.  During the course of the night I won a target shooting contest which netted me a bottle of wine sold exclusively at the Villa.  I also did solve the case, but I had my epiphany when I was alone with the 2 killers.  Though I bolted from the room when I realized the truth, I had already been marked for death by them as they feared I was getting a little too close according to the snarky note they left under my door the next morning.  However, for having traveled so far, I was given a nice parting gift of the Ellery Queen novel, The Dragon’s Teeth.

I was fortunate enough to be able to return to the Villa in September 2005 when I finally had the chance to meet Mr. Sherlock Holmes and Dr. John Watson.

Oh, didn’t you know they were real people?

It’s true.  Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was really Watson’s literary agent and he got credit for writing the tales to perpetuate the idea that Holmes was a fictional character, thus preserving his anonymity.  Ron’s great-grandfather was Senator Neil Gibson, whom you may know from the case entitled “The Problem of Thor Bridge”.  Through him, Ron became friends with Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson, whose lifespans have been augmented through a royal jelly elixir Holmes had cultivated when he had retired to the Sussex Downs.

In Mr. Holmes’ own words, he enjoys visiting Union City because “it is a hellhole of crime of great depth and brilliance”.  Unbelievably, I have had the honor of assisting Mr. Holmes in two cases.  While I have copious notes of these accounts, a pledge of silence has barred me from sharing these stories until, and unless, Mr. Holmes gives me leave.  However, I don’t think I would be amiss by admitting that I was crucial to helping him bring the affair of “the nameless corpse” to a successful conclusion for which I received a lovely Holmes nutcracker which graces my mantle today.

The last time I visited the Villa was 2010 when I attended one of their Christmas weekends where I was treated to a marvelous performance from John Sherwood as Charles Dickens where he read A Christmas Carol and enjoyed a sumptuous 9 course Roast Goose Christmas dinner as described in Dickens’ tale.

Mr. Holmes and Dr. Watson have not visited the Villa for a few years, but I look forward to a time when they do return so I may renew old acquaintances and perhaps aid Holmes and Watson in another investigation.

But if you find yourself near Union City, take a moment and spend a night at the Victorian Villa and find out why, as they say, it is the past. . .unsurpassed.