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Laguna Playhouse bringing a range of acts to the stage

The cast of "Holmes & Watson" in the Laguna Playhouse production.
Matt Koenig, Matthew Floyd Miller, Mike Peebler, Alice Sherman, Christopher M. Williams, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper and Richard Baird, from left, in the Laguna Playhouse production of “Holmes & Watson.”
(Courtesy of Jason Niedle)
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Murder mystery enthusiasts wring their hands and grind their teeth in anticipation of the plot twists to come.

Laguna Playhouse has ventured into that realm, and not simply because it is currently bringing the venerable detective Sherlock Holmes back to the stage.

David Ellenstein, who is in his second year as the artistic director of the venue, wants to keep audiences coming back for more. The season to come will feature a little bit of everything, from drama to farce.

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While variety has been said to be the spice of life, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. Ellenstein acknowledges that, though he believes a formula based on quality will help some see past their particularities.

“You need to put the ingredients together so that the productions are all strong, so that the actors are all good, so that the set and the lighting and the technical elements are really good, so that the audience knows that even if they don’t like a particular play, they see that it’s done well,” Ellenstein said. “They come to trust that you’re going to do whatever you do well, so even if they don’t like this one, they’ll come back to the next one because they know that it’s going to be done well.”

“Holmes & Watson” has drawn well, even among its midweek crowds. The seven-actor play opened on May 29, with the final performance to come on June 16.

Richard Baird in the Laguna Playhouse production of “Holmes & Watson,” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein.
Richard Baird in the Laguna Playhouse production of “Holmes & Watson,” by Jeffrey Hatcher, directed by David Ellenstein.
(Courtesy of Jason Niedle)

The current production was written by Jeffrey Hatcher and directed by Ellenstein. Richard Baird takes on a starring role as Watson, his character remaining on stage for practically the entirety of the 90-minute play.

Ellenstein complimented Baird’s capacity for taking on large roles “seemingly with ease,” while the former appreciates the trust put in him to perform across the spectrum of theatricality.

“I rarely play the same kind of role for him, so he’s really trusted me with a lot of range, which as an actor is incredibly exciting because a lot of people have a tendency to try to box us up into the package that they expect us to be,” Baird said. “David really allows me to be challenged because he knows that the roles that I’m most excited by are the ones that frighten me a bit, the ones that I’m like, ‘Can I really pull this off?’ That’s when I find that my best work comes out is when I’m challenged.”

Baird, who has an extensive history of collaborating with Ellenstein, has also worked as a director. He explained that there are advantages to having found himself on both sides of the production.

“I learned so much about each from doing the other,” Baird said. “I learned to talk to actors, because I know as an actor how I like to be talked to and worked with. From a directing standpoint, when I’m trying to create the whole world and go, ‘Where does that character fit in this world,’ well, now, when I switch back to being an actor, I can say, ‘OK, this is the full story, and this is my moment to kind of step forward, and this is my moment to kind of hang back and know where I fit within the world.’”

The cast of “Holmes & Watson” also includes Matt Koenig, Matthew Floyd Miller, Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper, Mike Peebler, Alice Sherman and Christopher M. Williams.

Mike Peebler, Richard Baird, Christopher M. Williams and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper act out a scene of “Holmes & Watson.”
Mike Peebler, behind window, Richard Baird, Christopher M. Williams and Nicholas Mongiardo-Cooper act out a scene of “Holmes & Watson.”
(Courtesy of Jason Niedle)

In between seasons, Laguna Playhouse is set to bring Lerner and Loewe’s musical “Camelot” to life from July 24 to Aug. 11.

“I like to put on plays that people want to see, but I also like all kinds of theater,” said Ellenstein, who also serves as the artistic director at North Coast Repertory Theatre in Solana Beach. “I like comedies, I like dramas, I like musicals, I like tragedies, I like new plays, I like old plays, so I am really an eclectic theater person because I like plays from all the genres.

“I try to put a season together that’s a jigsaw puzzle of all kinds of plays, so that every time you come to the theater, you’re seeing something different.”

The opening act of the 2024-25 season will be “Don’t Dress for Dinner,” which will run from Sept. 4 to Sept. 22. The rest of the season will follow with “A View from the Bridge,” “Eleanor,” “The Remarkable Mister Holmes,” “Fences,” “Peril in the Alps,” and “Honky Tonk Angels.”

For more information, visit lagunaplayhouse.com.

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