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May 27th
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Sword Play

ane_leadSSC's 'Three Musketeers' a palpable hit.

En garde! Prepare for serious roistering in “The Three Musketeers,” the second production of Shakespeare Santa Cruz's 30th Anniversary season. Adapted from Alexandre Dumas' evergreen swashbuckling classic, it's beautifully staged by director Art Manke outdoors in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen. In this dynamic production, plots are hatched, troths are plighted, honor is impugned and defended, wars are fought, and swords are crossed at every opportunity. If it all feels a bit breathless, it's still rousing good fun.

Dumas' picaresque novel was first published in serial format in 1844. This new adaptation by playwrights Linda Alper, Douglas Langworthy, and Penny Metropulos (commissioned for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in 1999) is impressive in its fidelity to the breadth of Dumas' novel. Plot-furthering climaxes chase each other across the stage at breakneck speed. Manke keeps the action fleet and fluid, in and out of the many compartments, balconies, terraces, draperies, and stairwells of Michael Ganio's formidable set. Some incidents feel rushed, but it's worth noting that director Richard Lester needed two feature-length films to tell the same story this adaptation covers in a fast couple of hours.

The story is set in 1620s France, in the reign of young King Louis XIII (played with louche, comic decadence by Charles Pasternak). Uninterested in his arranged marriage to neglected Queen Anne (a sympathetic Lenne Klingman), Louis would rather play with his boy courtiers and leave statecraft to his chief advisor, ruthless Cardinal Richelieu (cool, sinister Richard Ziman), who is devoted to rooting out Protestant rebellion and becoming the only power behind the throne.

Meanwhile, D'Artagnan (Leigh Nichols Miller), a gauche and earnest youth from provincial Gascony, arrives in Paris hoping to join the king's elite guard of Musketeers. On the way, in a single morning, he manages to insult three of the most famed Musketeers, each of whom calls him out for a duel: vain popinjay Porthos (Kit Wilder), noble, philosophical Athos (Allen Gilmore), and chivalrous romantic Aramis (J. Todd Adams).  These scenes are done with humor and panache, and when they all meet in the field of honor, the Musketeers are disarmed by the Gascon's graciousness and bravery. ("If one of us doesn't kill the other, I should hope we have the pleasure of knowing each other better," Athos tells him.) Fortunately, their duel is interrupted by the Cardinal's Guards, and when D'Artagnan joins the Musketeers in a brawl against their rivals (and proves an excellent swordsman), the four become fast friends.

The plot quickly thickens. Furnished with a worldly servant, Planchet (a funny Jeff Mills), D'Artagnan falls in love with his elderly landlord's young wife, Constance (the spirited Sepideh Moafi), dressmaker to the queen. She involves the Gascon and his friends in court intrigues involving the queen and her lover, the English Duke of Buckingham (Erik Heger), a Huegenot uprising, and a gift of diamonds gone astray, along with the machinations of the Cardinal's henchman, Count de Rochefort (played with silky, purring menace by V. Craig Heidenreich), and his accomplice, the scheming, amoral fatal beauty, Milady de Winter. Katie MacNichol is an excellent, imperious Milady, a slippery wild card in the games of the men who believe they control her; she even seduces a Puritan (a deft about-face by Pasternak) with her feigned piety.

Another scene between D'Artagnan and Constance would be nice; we scarcely get a sense of their feelings for each other in all the hubbub. And things often happen too fast; Milady sweeps off in the protection of the Cardinal's Guards one moment, and in the next, she's a prisoner of the enemy Musketeers.

But these are minor quibbles next to the appealing camaraderie of the Musketeers themselves. Gilmore brings wonderful presence to the brooding Athos. Adams gives us an Aramis convincingly poised between the spiritual and the sensual, ready to opt for the Church the minute this or that mistress rebuffs him. Miller grounds D'Artgnan's naïveté with decency and good humor. But the happiest surprise might be by Porthos, often a throwaway, comedy-relief role. Wilder makes him grandiose, yes, with his taste for fashion and finery, but never silly. As robust in valor and loyalty as he is in other appetites, and blessed with a marvelous, infectious laugh, Wilder's Porthos is a scene-stealing delight. (He also gets to wear the coolest boots in the show.)

Which brings us to B. Modern's glorious period costumes. From the Musketeers' rich tunics, plumed hats, and bucket-cuff boots, the Cardinal's factions, all in scarlet, and the ladies' rustling brocaded gowns, to Louis' ridiculously beribboned shoes and his sun-emblazoned gold armor, it's a dazzling embarrassment of riches from curtain to coda. Dazzling as well are the swordfighting sequences—whether on the battlefield or in the taverns—choreographed with wit and brio by Gregory Hoffman. With “The Three Musketeers,” SSC celebrates its anniversary with a crowd-pleasing romp of a show.


The Shakespeare Santa Cruz production of “The Three Musketeers” plays in repertoire through Aug. 28 in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen at UCSC. For tickets call 459-2159, or visit shakespearesantacruz.org.

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