Tonawanda News — In all his years of writing and adapting shows for the stage, L. Don Swartz had never considered the world of Sherlock Holmes — until now.
Swartz said he was working on another show and “couldn’t do anything with it” when a college student suggested Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Holmes stories and novels. He was at first uninterested, but read Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” — and was hooked.
About two years later, Swartz’s world-premiere adaptation of Doyle’s “The Hound of the Baskervilles” will open at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda. Performances will continue at 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays through March 8, with a 2 p.m. matinee March 9.
“Ten pages in, I absolutely fell in love with how he writes,” Swartz said of Doyle’s work. “It’s so adaptable and so theatric that it was a joy to adapt. It’s all new to me. I’m so grateful she said, ‘Hey, read his stuff.’ “
The novel, dealing with a mystery wrapped around the legend of a diabolical hound at Dartmoor in England and the famous detective’s investigation of the situation, was first serialized in The Strand Magazine in 1901 and 1902. The story has been done and redone in dozens of radio, film and television adaptations, but Swartz said he tries to bring “the passion of discovering something new” to his version.
“My point of view is that I’m going to introduce this to half the audience, maybe more,” he said. “To say, this is not some boring, old English, stuffy drawing room thing. That’s what kept me going, to share my discovery of it.
“If we can get some people to say ‘Ah ha! No wonder this has been around so long’ ... It’s just wonderful storytelling.”
Swartz said he made some changes to the plot while trying to stay true to the original. To evoke the wide spaces and atmosphere of Dartmoor on the Ghostlight stage, he said, they use open space and a wash of gray light.
“Legends are scary stuff. Even when, in the light of day, you laugh at it ... at night, when you’re out there, anything’s possible,” he said. “All the fun of the novel takes place out on the moor. That’s one thing for sure we had to have. And that was a challenge. I’m satisfied with what we came up with; hopefully the audience will be too.”
In addition to writing and directing the show, Swartz himself will portray the famous detective, joined by a cast that includes Chris Fire as Dr. Watson and Daniel Arrasjid as Jack Stapleton. This marks the third winter in a row Fire and Arrasjid have wound up playing opposite each other on the stage, with Fire as Victor Frankenstein in 2012’s “Frankenstein” and Arrasjid as the creature, and Fire as Jim Hawkins in 2013’s “Treasure Island” and Arrasjid as Long John Silver.
“It’s so fun to be up there with them,” Swartz said. “That’s their favorite, the winter classic; they just come alive.”
Arrasjid said he’s been a big fan of the Sherlock Holmes stories and novels for years, “voraciously” reading them as a child and watching the televised British version of the 1980s, as well as newer versions. He said that Swartz always finds a way to adapt the material in a way that plays with the preconceived notions an audience brings to the show.
“There are some interesting aspects, but again, you have to come to see it,” he said. “The script, the material that Don presents to you is so rich that from an actor’s perspective it give you a lot that you can then dig into.”
For his part, Swartz said that portraying the legendary Holmes on stage was “a humbling experience” — but he’s not so sure that people assuming he would play the often abrasive and highly logical detective was a good thing.
“The more I found out about (Holmes), I thought, ‘Maybe this is not a compliment ... ,’ “ he said.
“The Hound of the Baskervilles” also features Trey Wydysh as Sir Henry Baskerville, Carl Tamburlin and Joann V. Mis as Mr. and Mrs. Barrymore, Mark Woomer as Dr. Mortimer and Katie Buckler as Beryl Stapleton.
IF YOU GO
• WHAT: “The Hound of the Baskervilles”
• WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Feb. 28, March 1, 7 and 8 and 2 p.m. March 9
• WHERE: Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda
• COST: Tickets are $14 general, $12 for veterans, students and seniors. Tickets can be reserved at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling the ticket office at 743-1614.IF YOU GO • WHAT: "The Hound of the Baskervilles" • WHEN: 7 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Friday, Saturday, Feb. 28, March 1, 7 and 8 and 2 p.m. March 9 • WHERE: Ghostlight Theatre, 170 Schenck St., North Tonawanda • COST: Tickets are $14 general, $12 for veterans, students and seniors. Tickets can be reserved at www.starrynighttheatre.com or by calling the ticket office at 743-1614.