Chet Greason, Gazette staff
Antoni Cimolino’s first year as artistic director at the Stratford Festival has certainly been a fascinating one. The various plays all seem to have a thematic link to one another.
One of the most notable reappearing themes, as mentioned by Cimolino himself at the Festival’s opening night, is that of youth, or rather, youth in revolt. Daughters disobey their fathers in Romeo and Juliet, Fiddler on the Roof, and Merchant of Venice; young Tommy rallies his generation in Tommy; and in The Three Musketeers, brash D’Artagnan defies anyone who crosses him.
Is it a clever ploy to enamor the Festival to a new generation? If so, there seems to be no better vehicle for delivery than Peter Raby’s stage adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s raucous book.
Musketeers is made for the generation raised on fast-cut movies and reality TV; a yarn that moves with lightning speed, condensing the sweeping action of Dumas’s hefty tome into a comparatively brief stage engagement. There are over 40 scene changes in Raby’s Musketeers, with most being only a few minutes long.
The action of those scenes is likely to hold the attention of even the most distracted of kids. If not containing swordplay, the scene will have copious amounts of clowning. If not clowning, intrigue. And if not intrigue, more swordplay.
The director’s notes in the program even mention the likes of Batman and the villainous Voldemort, drawing parallels between the swashbuckling heroes of yesterday and today.
The cast keeps this youthful energy going throughout almost the entire play, although it lags a bit following the intermission when the focus shifts from quarreling swordsmen to lovers’ trysts. Our heroes are led by daring D'Artagnan, played by Luke Humphrey as a fearless fighter who embodies the mantra of living fast and dying young. The motley trio of Musketeers he joins include hard-drinking Athos (Graham Abbey), pious Aramis (Mike Shara), and self-serving Porthos (Jonathan Goad).
Additional mention has to go to Keith Dinicol for his endlessly funny, Bert Lahr-inspired portrayal of King Louis XIII. Steven Sutcliffe, as Cardinal Richelieu, has seething tones of Malkovich and Christopher Guest’s six-fingered man. Deborah Hay plays hardball with the boys as Milady de Winter.
Speaking of Milady, audience members with contemporary views of sexual equality may find the character problematic. Whereas D'Artagnan and his cronies enjoy endless backslapping and accolades for violence and sexual conquests by means of deception, the same actions perpetrated by a woman are deemed an unforgivable offense punishable by death. Perhaps this is why Hay and director Miles Potter chose to play Milady less as a sneering villain and more as a competent peer on a decidedly underhanded battlefield.
The set, when unlit, might remind you of the entrance to King Kong’s realm on Skull Island- all primitive cross-hatching. It gives the set a half-done, scaffold look; however, when lit, the set can become wrought iron, or eerily cave-like. It’s a novel approach to a production that requires a great deal of flexibility from its backdrop given the 40-plus scene changes.
The Three Musketeers is light, fun fare full of flashing steel and waddling clowns. The cast does an excellent job of keeping the energy high and the action frequent. With any luck, your young sons will love it.