Sunday, October 19, 2008

Play: Flashing Blades

The Three Musketeers by Ken Ludwig, Adapted by the novel by Alexander Dumas, Directed by Kyle Donnelly, Seattle Rep, through 15 November.

Let me say this at the outset - Dumas's original just begs to be rewritten.

Trust me, I'm speaking from personal experience with the tome. I've read the bowdlerized young folks versions, pecked my way through the original French, and watched the Lester films. More importantly, I've just finished the Richard Pevear translation from Viking, which, if you're a fan of the story, I would recommend strongly.

That new translation shows that while the story is a classic, it is separated both by time and culture. Modern sensibilities may rise an eyebrow at D'Artagnan's romancing of his landlord's wife (while said landlord was in the Bastille, no less), or Porthos' blatant exploitation of his older patroness. And the entire moral muddiness over who the bad guys are (the English? the Huguenots? The Cardinal? and why are we helping the Queen cheating on the King?) makes it a bit more challenging.

So the story is rewritten, much as the original seriously revised the story of the original d'Artagnan (and much like the American dime novels revised the stories of real-life Edison, Doc Holliday, and the James gang). D'Artagnan in this version is much more the youthful, pure-hearted male ingenue (ably played by the Andrew William Smith, with more depth than his surfer-dude Cleante in last year's Imaginary Invalid). Richelieu (A dominating Jim Abele) harks more towards Darth Vader than Charlton Heston in all his badness. And the Three Musketeers have hidden bases, and act more like Batman than bravos. And there is the matter of d'Artagnan's kid sister.

Yeah, you heard it right. New character inserted into a crowded cast, in the form of Sabine, "D'Arty's" younger sister. She replaces Planchet, d'Artagnan's manservant (for that matter, the other menservants vanish entirely from the play). And at first blush, this sounds about as wise as giving the moody Anakin Starwalker a spunky teenage sidekick, but Montana Von Fliss makes us forgive this incursion as well, and again, from modern sensibilities, makes the ending play out a bit neater than in the original.

She also keeps this from being the all-boys' club of the original and provides a counterpoint for Cheyenne Casebier's devilish Milady. Jennifer Sue Johnson is good as Constance, but the plot requires the poor lass to carry the idiot ball at the worst possible moments. Milady is strong and deliciously malicious, and played beautifully by Casebier, holding her own with Abele's Richelieu on the stage. The only thing that I will quibble with is, that if Milady was hung years ago, those open-at-the-throat gowns would reveal the rope marks. But that is a quibble.

Simplicity gets down to the title three as well. Hans Alweis as Athos is the crushed romantic, the fallen noble. Jeff Bender's Porthos is more into his vanity. And Ryan Shams as the priestly Aramis throws off biblical verse and serves as straight man for Sabine's romantic interests. This, by the way, is one of the hardest things to do with these three inseparables - they are thought of as a unit, and most people cannot remember which is which. The original backup band.

The sets are Eifel Tower turned Transformer, with shifting props and making full use of vertical space from the first appearance of the musketeers (sliding down from ropes on the ceiling). Indeed, they use the full stage and spill out into the audience during their battles. The swordplay itself ranges from well-choreographed ballet for the larger pieces to a lot of Doug Fairbanks bog-standard (swing up right, swing up left, swing down right, swing down left - they are attacking the sword, not attacking the man behind the sword). But that's a minor point that only us SCA-veterans would pick up, and the regular crescendo of crashing live steel and muskets keep the action up.

So, a lot of bits are glossed over and some motivations are mangled a bit. Not going to replace the book, but the book has to be taken with a huge chunk of understanding as well. Worth bringing the kids to (and yeah, the average age for a Seattle Rep plunged with this one - its a good intro to the grown-up theater for the kids).

But you know who really needs her own story? Milady. She really needs that "Wicked" approach (and part of that is just because she really pulls out the stops in the last quarter of Dumas's book, which never gets covered). I'm just saying.

More later.