The Man in the Iron Mask Concludes a Swashbuckling Outdoor Trilogy
Hudson Warehouse presents the exciting conclusion of Susane Lee's adaptation of the work of Alexandre Dumas.
If you could secretly replace Donald Trump with his imprisoned identical twin, would you do it? The plot to clandestinely unseat a king is at the heart of The Man in the Iron Mask, the highly contrived, wildly entertaining action-adventure drama now playing on the back patio of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park under the banner of Hudson Warehouse. It's the third and final installment of executive director Susane Lee's adaptation of The D'Artagnan Romances by Alexandre Dumas, a project that started three years ago with The Three Musketeers. On all counts, this grand finale is the best installment of the trilogy.
The three actors from last year's middle chapter, Twenty Years Later, resume their roles as the elder musketeers: David Palmer Brown makes a jolly Porthos, Joseph Hamel is a gruff Athos, and Nicholas Martin-Smith plays Aramis with a joviality that artfully masks the cold calculations of a smooth political operator. Newcomer Conor M. Hamill portrays a much-mellowed and somewhat jaded D'Artagnan, who is now the only active musketeer of the original foursome.
D'Artagnan's enthusiasm for duty has become increasingly difficult to maintain now that his friends are retired and he serves an increasingly bratty king. Louis XIV (Daniel Yaiullo, with the entitlement of a trust-funder) is a royal pain in the ass: He's set to marry Princess Maria Theresa of Spain (a wide-eyed Deborah K. Bjornsti), but he is already plotting a secret affair with Louisa de la Valliere (Elle Rigg). This is despite her engagement to musketeer Raoul (Matthew Palumbo), son of Athos.
Even worse: Louis is planning to invade Spain shortly after his wife's coronation, a plot contrived by the devious Minister Colbert (Albert Baker, portraying an oily 17th-century Dick Cheney). Louis's ambition threatens to unsettle all of Europe, but Aramis (who has become the Superior General of the Jesuits) has a plan to secretly replace him with his twin brother, Philippe, who is imprisoned in the Bastille with an iron mask, so that no one can discern his real identity (Yaiullo does double-duty as the king and his twin, delivering two distinct yet equally hilarious performances).
Lee blasts through an incredible amount of exposition with her trim, punchy scenes, which Martin-Smith (who also directs) stages with vigor and efficiency. Even with no set, the patio easily transforms into the Jardin du Luxembourg or Vaux-le-Vicomte. Much of this has to do with John-Ross Winter's period costume design, which manages to impress on a tight budget through clever recycling (like a junior wicked witch, Colbert is now wearing the evil little red shoes that once adorned the feet of Cardinal Mazarin). Jared Kirby's thrilling fight choreography also transforms the space by filling it with close-encounter swordplay. The duel between Raoul and Saint Jacques (George K. Wells) is particularly heart-pounding, causing the whole audience to wince at the gruesome spectacle.
Palumbo's dashing Raoul seems to be in genuine peril throughout, a tone underscored by Rigg's desperate attempt to stop the fight. As Saint Jacques, Wells is a merciless henchman for his king, yet his panicked eyes betray a man deeply troubled by his own actions. These are some of the best performances I've ever seen at Hudson Warehouse.
In just over 90 minutes, The Man in the Iron Mask manages to convey the spirit and excitement of one of the greatest historical fiction novels ever written. Purists may bristle at Lee's revision of the conclusion (she sends us off with a much happier ending than Dumas envisioned), but it feels perfectly agreeable for midsummer dusk. We want to believe that there really are good guys looking out for us as darkness sets over the realm — even if that isn't strictly the case.