After two fairly heavy shows at Long Wharf, it felt good to laugh through “Baskerville.” To let go. To relax in the darkness of the theater and the imagined danger of a legendary hound. I was drawn in by the wild, windswept moor, something of a staple of British literature, and my juicy questions all center around myth and mystery:
- Urban legends and mythical monsters: Are you a skeptic, like Henry? Or are you intrigued by the mystery like Sherlock? Do you have a favorite mythical monster?
- Do you feel that everything in the world has a rational explanation?
- Like the moor, what is a place that you are afraid of, but also drawn to?
The Loch Ness Monster, Yeti, La Chupacabra, the Hound of Baskerville. I don’t believe in mythical monsters, but it is fun to think about them. Having a soft spot for all cephalopods—the animal family that includes squids, nautiluses, and octopuses—I would place the Kraken at top of my list of these creatures. Why? Like many cephalopods, which are actually incredibly smart and sensitive, the Kraken gets a bad wrap and is often depicted crushing ships with its mighty arms. But Kraken is really just the human fear of the deep, dark ocean personified.
During the play, Watson struggles with the legend of the hound, saying, “I’ve lived my life believing in the rational world.” As for me, I don’t turn to the supernatural, whether religion or ghosts or urban legends, in cases where rational explanations exist. But neither do I think the world is an entirely rational place. How cold it would be if it were. In other words, I don’t seek supernatural answers, but where the rational ones fail, I’m happy to let there be a little mystery. The magic of life is in between.
The moor is a powerful symbol of wild darkness. When Beryl and Henry are out on the moor, she asks him “Why live here if it is a place of danger?” He answers, “Because it is a place of danger.” As in Fireflies, with the struggle between certainty and freedom represented by Eleanor and Abel, this is also a question of personality. Which do you value more: safety or adventure? (Or as Mrs. Barrymore would say, “adwentuwe.”) When push comes to shove, I choose adventure over safety. But that doesn’t mean I’m not also a scaredy cat!
The “moor” in my own life is camping. Living in the city so long has taught me to distrust a world without cars and people and sidewalks and buildings. Those things feel safe to me. But when I am away from all of the exhaust and noise, I feel like I can actually breathe. I can feel my parasympathetic nervous system unwinding, letting go, turning to a puddle of mush. And that feels good. Until night falls and there are no streetlights, that is.
Baskerville allows us to explore the wild moor of human nature and experience—murder, jealousy, deceit, love, salvation—from the safe vessel of comedy. It’s like driving through on a tour bus with a witty guide. And at this point in the season, that is just what this scaredy cat needed.
Leah Andelsmith is a writer living in New Haven. She loves the arts and finding magic in the everyday. This is her first season as a community ambassador for Long Wharf Theatre. You can find her on Facebook: facebook.com/leahandelsmith