The Three Musketeers
Alexandre Dumas's swashbuckling novel comes to life in Riverside Park.
The king is a buffoon, but that's not the only way we Americans can relate to the 17th-century French characters in Susane Lee's adaptation of The Three Musketeers, now making its world premiere with Hudson Warehouse at the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument in Riverside Park. This scrappy production marries a contemporary sensibility with thrilling swordplay, resulting in a very watchable staging of the beloved tale.
Based on the historical adventure novel by Alexander Dumas, The Three Musketeers tells the story of D'Artagnan (Nathan Mattingly), a young blade from Gascony who travels to Paris to join the musketeers, an elite company of the king's guard. On his very first day in the French capital, he manages to offend three different musketeers: the hotheaded Athos (Vince Phillip), the social-climbing Porthos (Nathan Oesterle), and the womanizing Aramis (George K. Wells). But before he can duel any musketeers, the Cardinal's guards, led by Captain Jussac (Finn Kilgore), attempt to arrest them all. Cardinal Richelieu (Scott Schutzman) seeks to marginalize the musketeers, and catching them fighting in the streets is a great way to convince the king (Bob Wasinger) that they're not worth the trouble.
The scheming Cardinal also wants to expose the Queen (Karen Eterovich), who is having a secret affair with George Villiers, the Duke of Buckingham (Christopher Todd). He employs the cutthroat Rochefort (Olev Aleksander) and black widow assassin Milady de Winter (Karen Collazzo) in his plot. D'Artagnan must outwit them all if he is to prove worthy of the musketeers, a dim prospect for the dim-witted Gascon.
Mattingly portrays D'Artagnan with outsize enthusiasm and wide-eyed naïveté. His fan-boy giddiness can barely be contained when he considers the prospect of heroically dying at the hands of a musketeer. Over the course of two hours, that hero-worshipping innocence darkens into something a lot more sustainable, perfectly setting the stage for the next chapter of his life (Lee plans to adapt all three novels in The D'Artagnan Romances series).
The other performances remain more broadly drawn than that of our protagonist: Collazzo delivers a sharp-elbowed, screechy milady, while Schutzman plays the cardinal like an overworked and unscrupulous attorney. We absolutely believe that Eterovich's decidedly unregal Anne of Austria would fall for Todd's Buckingham, a bougie swinger with a Sloane Square smile. "Oh Georgie," exclaims the enraptured Queen, sounding more like a housewife from Queens.
Lee and director Nicholas Martin-Smith depict the king and queen as longer in the tooth than they are in the novel (or actually were in 1625): They're like an old married couple suffering from a 30-year itch, rather than a mismatched marriage of state. Wasinger's flouncy Louis XIII suggests a man not particularly interested in women at all (as do the three scantily clad "cupids" who follow him around, giggling). Dumas never went there quite as explicitly, but he was no fan of the ancien régime, so Lee's interpretation is faithful to the spirit of his politics.
Martin-Smith's efficient Shakespearean staging squeezes this massive story into the back patio of the Soldiers' and Sailors' Monument. Actors rush on and off with minimal lag time between scenes. The blocking is so fluid that an upstage table occasionally employed for inn scenes feels like a needless obstacle. This is especially true during Nathan Oesterle's epic fight scenes, which use every inch of the stage. Those sitting in the front row often feel gusts of wind as steel cuts through air.
Emily Rose Parman impressively costumes an army of actors on a budget. She especially wows us with her uncommon attention to footwear: Buckles and cuffs stomp all over the stage in an impressive parade of boots the likes of which one usually sees only in outdoor theater performed under the patronage of major banks and airlines. Hudson Warehouse achieves the same effect with small donations.
Knowing that, it is easy to forgive the rough-edged elements of The Three Musketeers. It also helps that Lee's astute adaptation gets closer to the heart of the Dumas novel than most film versions. We see the spunky young D'Artagnan force his way into his dream job, only to realize that good doesn't always triumph over evil, not completely. Like any career, there are compromises to be made and office politics with which to contend. In that way, D'Artagnan feels more like an actual human rather than an action-adventure hero. Such an ambiguous conclusion leaves us hungry for the next installment.