Alex Moggridge has become a familiar face in Connecticut regional theater. Now he’s playing one of the most famous characters in all of literature.
Moggridge is Sherlock Holmes in “Baskerville,” playwright Ken Ludwig’s comic take on Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1901 detective story “The Hound of the Baskervilles.” The play is at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven Feb. 28 through March 25.
The adventure leads Holmes and and his companion Dr. Watson to an eerie mansion in Devonshire, where Charles Baskerville has suspiciously dropped dead of a heart attack.
Ludwig is the playwright of the moment in Connecticut right now, with another of his mystery comedies, “Murder on the Orient Express” (based on the Agatha Christie book) currently playing at Hartford Stage.
Moggridge has played some famous characters in Connecticut before. He played George Bailey, the role made famous on film by Jimmy Stewart, in “It’s a Wonderful Life: A Live Radio Play” at the Long Wharf in 2011, the same year he played Andrei in
Sarah Ruhl’s adaptation of the Chekhov classic “Three Sisters” at Yale Repertory Theatre. His last Long Wharf appearance before “Baskerville” was in Bruce Norris’ racially charged Pulitzer-winning community drama “Clybourne Park” in 2013. Two summers ago Moggridge acted in a new Kate Tarker play at the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center in Waterford.
“I love new work,” Moggridge says of his experiences at the O’Neill and at the Humana Festival of New Plays in Louisville, Ky. “I love the process of it. I’ve been lucky to fall into those situations. I write plays myself, so I feel I can be useful in the room.”
Is Moggridge a Sherlock Holmes fan?
“Now I am,” he says, laughing. “I grew up watching the BBC one, with Jeremy Brett. That was my first exposure to Sherlock Holmes.” More recently, on long commutes to a theater gig, he experienced the Conan Doyle stories via audiobooks narrated by the British actor Ralph Richardson.
Though director Brendon Fox has done “Baskerville” before, as a co-production between two theaters in Ohio just last year, Moggridge says “this is a new production, not a remount. Brendon wanted to have a clean slate. He let us find our own way in.”
The actor allows that “There’s one cast member” — Brian Owen, credited as “Actor One” in a cast where three of the five performers each take on multiple roles — “who did it in Cleveland,” Moggridge says. “Some designers are the same. But everyone else is brand new. I had the cast over for a Super Bowl party celebrating that none of us knew each other a week earlier.”
Will he wear a deerstalker hat and hold a pipe?
“I don’t know if I’m allowed to tell you.”
Ludwig, in an interview with the Courant last month about “Murder on the Orient Express” at Hartford Stage, professed to being a genuine fan of mystery novels. (He’s currently enjoying Nero Wolfe adventures by Rex Stout.) But the plays he writes are always funny and mingle mystery and comedy freely. How much should one take seriously?
Moggridge has never done a Ludwig play, or played Holmes, before.
“Interestingly,” he begins, “Brendon’s been very clear that we’re approaching ‘Baskerville” as both a comedy and a mystery. The comedy will only be successful, we feel, if it is approached as truth. It can not be just one funny bit after another, where’s it’s all about the joke.
“Within that approach, there’s Watson [played by Daniel Pearce] and me and three chameleons [Brian Owen, Kelly Hutchinson and Christopher Livingston]. A lot of the delight is going to be in the quick transformations — the actors changing on the spot, in the moment.
“We’re still working it out a little bit, but I definitely want to make [Sherlock] passionate. This is not a send-up of Sherlock Holmes or of anybody’s interpretation of Sherlock Holmes. He’s deeply passionate about what he does. I’m not backing away from that side of things. He sometimes has this boyish exuberance. Sometimes he’s quiet, though his mind is racing a mile a minute. It’s just interesting, playing this iconic role.”
BASKERVILLE runs Feb. 28 through March 25 at the Long Wharf Theatre, 222 Sargent Dr., New Haven. Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:30 p.m.; Thursday through Saturday at 3 and 8 p.m.; and Sunday at 2 p.m., with added performances May 4 and 11 at 7 p.m. Tickets are $35.50 to $91.50. 203-787-4282 and longwharf.org.