Thursday, July 25, 2013

THE THREE MUSKETEERS--swashbuckling farcical intrigue at The Festival

The hallmarks of France’s most widely read author are sword fights, battles for the honor of beautiful women, court intrigue, sexual liaisons, and comradeship.  Yes, Alexandre Dumas, known for his high adventure serials, books and plays, is the king of farcical, melodramatic epics.  Among his works is THE COUNT OF MONTE CRISO, TWENTY YEARS AFTER and THE THREE MUSKETEERS.  The latter has been transformed into a stage play by Peter Raby and is being staged at The Stratford Festival of Canada.

Dumas’s recounting of debauchery seems to have had a sound personal knowledge base.  He is noted as having at least 40 affairs and fathered at least four legitimate and illegitimate children.  His writing of sword and political intrigue also comes from experience.  He participated in the revolution that ousted Chares X and replaced him on the throne with the Duke of Orléans.

There is some question as to whether Dumas was the sole author of THE THREE MUSKETEERS.  As was the custom during his era, writing with partners was in vogue.  The purported Musketeer co-author was August Maquet, who took Dumas to court to try and get authorial recognition and payment for his work.  He was successful in getting some money, but not a byline.

As the curtain rises, we are in the midst of a savage sword fight.  We soon learn that the combatants are D’Artagnan and his father.  The young man is about to go off in search of achieving his goal of becoming a Musketeer of the Guard and is honing his skills.

Through the course of sword fights, conflict, wine, women, and poetry, we find D’Artagnan and his three fellow musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, fighting for king, country and love.  We are exposed to devious Cardinal Richelieu and equally evil Milady de Winter who attempt assassinations, and incite plots and counterplots.  And, of course, in the end, virtue wins out over evil as the musketeers live by the motto, “All for one and one for all,” and defeat the “bad guys.” 

Those who want more of this fun need to read TWENTY YEARS AFTER, Dumas’s follow-up book.

The Stratford production, under the creative direction of John Tiggeloven, is delightful.  For anyone who loves the swashbuckling serials of old, likes big costume shows, and are lovers of farce, this is your thing!   The two and a half hour show time flies by.

The cast has a great time playing heroes, evil villains and rogues.  The sword fighting scenes are realistic and well choreographed.  The flexible set and quick changes of location make the production almost cinematic.  The extended farce is well timed.

Handsome Luke Humphrey is charming as D’Artagnan.  He transitions with ease from naïve boy, who wants to be a do-gooder, to an upstanding musketeer who attempts to save the world.  He adds a nice youthful air to the action. 

He is well assisted by his band of merry men, the three inseparables, Jonathan Goad (Porthos), Mike Shara (Aramis) and Graham Abbey (Athos).  

Steven Sutcliffe creates evil incarnate as Cardinal Richelieu (boo!), while Deborah Hay creates a MILADY DE WINTER (double boo!)  into a devious lady who no one should trust.

Antoine Yared adds humor as Planchet, D’Artagnan’s servant.  Bethany Jillard is charming as D’Artagnan’s love.  The rest of the cast is also excellent.

(Parents be aware that charged language is used and non-graphic sexual scenes take place.)

Capsule judgement:  Stratford’s THE THREE MUSKETEERS is a melodramatic delight filled with swashbuckling action, farcical interludes, and bigger than life characters.   It tells the triumphant tale of good winning out over evil.  The production should delight those who want to escape the real world and live out the fantasies of days gone by.

THE THREE MUSKETEERS runs through October 19, 2013 at the Stratford Festival.   For information call or go to: 800-567-1600 or go on-line to