The Acting Company’s first production of 2006 is as tasty as a Three Musketeers candy bar. In fact, the show is The Three Musketeers — not courtesy of the Mars Candy Corporation but adapted from the Alexandre Dumas novel by Linda Alper, Douglas Langworthy, and Penny Metropulos. The property should really be called The Four Musketeers, for not much time passes before Athos, Porthos, and Aramis welcome into their ranks one D’Artagnan, and we’re awfully glad when they do. The lad sure deserves to join the club, given that he’s willing to fight them all, albeit one at a time. What’s more, when one fellow loses his weapon, D’Artagnan is ready to lend him his. What a guy!
D’Artagnan soon is involved in more derring-do when he rescues damsel-in-distress Constance. While there’s more than a dollop of love-at-first-sight between them, there’s also a major complication: Constance is married. What mitigates this situation is that her husband is not worthy of his wife, or his life. But the biggest issue at the heart of The Three Musketeers is the separation between church and state, though not in the way that expression is usually meant. Cardinal Richelieu wants to distance himself from the King, and once we meet His Majesty, we understand why. The King is an utter fop, and his Queen long ago began consorting with a lover. Because the King is so ineffectual, the Cardinal has instituted a nationwide policy of sword control — not to keep the streets safe but to ensure that he and his guards will be the only ones armed.
The Dumas novel did a fine job of connecting all the plot strands, and the three dramatists here do the same. They aren’t above adding the occasional double-entendre; for example, the saucy Milady DeWinter says of an admirer, “He has an enormous … estate,” giving the audience a knowing look before delivering that last word. But the writers are smart to limit the comedy in the first act so that it doesn’t overwhelm what happens in the second. There’s serious business here, including a not entirely happy ending. Director Casey Biggs stages it simply, with two 10-step staircases swirling around the stage in a Rubik’s cube’s worth of permutations. The production is slick enough to make two and a half hours pass by quickly. Biggs also adds a dash of the homoerotic to make a few points about the testosterone-soaked world, and Felix Ivanov provides some fight choreography that surprises.
You’d expect a troupe called The Acting Company to offer a company of good actors. It almost always has, ever since Juilliard director John Houseman founded the troupe in 1972. Chad Hoeppner shines as D’Artagnan. At first, he’s boyishly appealing and nicely green, an actor who loves to smile. (If you had a grin as winning as his, you’d use it often, too!) But Hoeppner comes to show the character’s seriousness of purpose, not to mention his guilt after his first actual murder.
The role of Cardinal Richelieu is skillfully underplayed played by the pencil-then Matt Bradford Sullivan. How nice to see the bad guy in a classic who isn’t snarling and laughing in his villainy; instead, he has the sheen of a good public relations man. Watch the way he doesn’t quite show contempt for the king even though he certainly feels it. The thing is, he’s felt it for so long that it doesn’t much rankle him any more. Sullivan makes Richelieu an effete, impudent snob, and that works splendidly.
Matt Steiner is wonderfully droll as D’Artagnan’s servant, who, in the grand and time-honored tradition of European drama, is smarter than his master. Megan McQuillan gives Constance an open-faced virtue. As for the monarchs, Henry Vick (picture a young Tommy Tune) doesn’t cross the line into utter caricature, while Deb Heinig recalls Norma Desmond in that she can convey so much with her eyes — especially the Queen’s shame at being saddled with an ineffectual husband. The most assured performance of all may well be that of Kaitlin O’Neal as Milady De Winter. This actress delivers a full-bodied character, a woman who has allied herself with Richelieu and now begins to realize that this was a mistake but still takes advantage of the man’s gallantry.
Oh, yes, The Three Musketeers. Mentioning them last may seem odd, but they are not the show’s main characters. Still, David Foubert is a brooding and introspective Aramis; Cedric Hayman amuses as the egocentric, mock-heroic Porthos; and Timothy Carter as Athos is most effective in a scene where he uses vino to bring forth the veritas. These three also function effectively as a unit. By the time they say “All for one, and one for all,” theatergoers may well be convinced that this show is one for all to enjoy.