Of all the great stories from our youth, The Three Musketeers will always hold the allure and fantasy of bold and fearless adventurers. The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival brings the Musketeers alive with playwright Ken Ludwig’s stage adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s 1840 novel. Ludwig’s wonderfully embellished play allows the HVSF company to put their own creative stamp on a production rich in action and humor.
The night this reviewer was at Boscobel, there were as many children as adults in the audience — and the appeal was universal. Director Christopher Edwards has perfected the balance between dialogue and highly skilled, choreographed wrestling and sword fights. Kudos to Fight Director Brad Lemons for well-calibrated, edgy jousts — sublime dances of dexterity, each sword-wielding brawl eliciting spontaneous applause.
Taylor Walsh, in his HVSF debut, is perfectly cast as the young D’Artagnon. Walsh is light on his feet and manages to fly through the air like a weightless gymnast. His D’Artagnon is brash but gracefully klutzy — he has the young women in the audience swooning and the older ones projecting a dose of maternal angst. Ludwig, (who just authored the wonderful How to Teach Your Children Shakespeare) added the character Sabine as D’Artagnon’s younger sister, played by Angela Janas, who is terrifically goofy, especially when she breaks from her tomboy role into her libidinous hankering for Aramis, played by the dashing Kyle Nunn.
Ryan Quinn, as D’Artagnon’s father and mentor, engages his son in a final lesson of combat as the play opens. The two men flip around the stage in a skirmish replete with groans and grunts; Quinn adroitly holds the father-son tension as he teaches his son how to defend himself while tearfully sending him off to become a Musketeer. Quinn, in another role (he miraculously jockeys five additional roles in the play), gives us a death scene right out of Monty Python. Flailing around just before his final collapse, Quinn is the human re-enactment of a pop-culture trailer, segueing between Michael Jackson’s dance moves from Beat It, Dorothy’s ‘dream’ lines from the Wizard of Oz to uttering “Rosebud” from the famous film Citizen Kane.
Scoring high on hilarity is Michael Borelli as the pouting King Louis XIII, given to carefree cart wheels, brandishing a Bronx accent that drifts into valley girl lingo. Borelli perfectly executes effeminate gestures while he prances around in period high heels, twirling an umbrella, often breaking the faux erudition by tugging on his wedgie. His best line: “Oh God. I love being King!” Chiara Motley perfectly portrays the king’s flighty Queen Anne and Mark Couchot is both villainous and daffy as Count de Rochefort.
Stephen Paul Johnson is perfect as the nasty Cardinal Richelieu, wielding his evil power and who conspires to rule France; his demise at the end is heartily cheered. Musketeer Porthos is convincingly played by Charlie Francis Murphy, who is both Richelieu’s serious adversary and cocky swordsman. Thrown into a battle of soldiers armed with rifles, the ambivalent Porthos questions the validity of religious-based war, asking if Christians were really killing each other over “how much Latin they can use in church?” The message of the church strong-arming the state can’t be overlooked.
Daniel Morgan Shelley soulfully plays Athos, the more somber of the three Musketeers and whose back story of lost love gives him pause to opine on how love really means the death of hope. Eleanor Handley as Milady, Richelieu’s heinous, sassy co-conspirator, offers up a clever and sexy evil temptress. At the end, Milady meets her match at the hand of Sabine in a dazzling fight where both women masterfully clash, sword against sword. Lily Narbonne is the sweet Constance Bonacieux, who nicely sustains a wholesome innocence and is well matched to Walsh’s D’Artagnan.
Sound Designer William Neal expertly chooses recorded, programmatic music that announces various scenes and moods throughout the show. Highlighting post intermission, Edwards has the full cast rocking the stage in a foot-stomping rendition of Kiss by Prince, (“you don’t have to be beautiful…..you don’t have to be rich…..to be my girl”) — a favorite that encourages one to clap and sing along.
The energy of this show is contagious and elicits frequent bursts of applause, especially for the super real sword swinging, incredible hand to hand combat and hard knock tumbles — captivating both kids and adults. A warning to those kids (of any age) who sit in front: you may suddenly find actors, in character, affably landing nearby or briefly falling in your lap to merely joke around. These impromptu, live-theater exchanges are priceless.
This is one of three plays in the HVSF’s 27th season, the other two are King Lear, directed by the festival’s Founding Artistic Director, Terrence O’Brien, and All’s Well That Ends Well directed by Russell Treyz. The season runs through the September 1, 2013.
All photos by William Marsh
Abby Luby, author of the recently published e-book Nuclear Romance, has been in the field of communications for over 20 years and a journalist just over 10. She has a Bachelor’s degree in Communications/Music from Indiana University and attended the High School of Music and Art in New York City. She is a freelance journalist for The New York Daily News, a regularly featured art critic for the Stamford Advocate/Greenwich Time and for the past five years has written for The Hudson Valley Table, a quarterly food magazine. Ms. Luby has contributed several articles on art events, gallery openings and artists in the Hudson Valley region to Roll Magazine. www.abbylu.com