Sunday, June 27, 2010

Swash Your Buckle with "The Three Musketeers" at the Illinois Shakespeare Festival

No, William Shakespeare did not write "The Three Musketeers." But, from time to time, the Illinois Shakespeare Festival does include non-Shakespeare material to offset more standard fare.

This is the ISF’s second try at “The Three Musketeers,” a rip-roaring yarn written in 1844 by Alexandre Dumas, père (as opposed to his son, Alexandre Dumas, fils). This time, the ISF has commissioned a new version of the Musketeer story from Chicago playwright Robert Kauzlaric, which was, as it turns out, a very good idea.

Kauzlaric cuts to the chase, trimming the long and complicated plot about 17th century political and personal intrigue, including kings and queens, heroes and villains, love and death, twelve diamond studs and lots of swordplay, down to one fairly fluid tale. All of the main bits are there, but dramatized and staged in ways that make them dash along as quickly as our hero D’Artagnan, the naïve fourth musketeer, gallops on his trusty steed. (The horses are actually piled-up crates or luggage of some sort in this version, and the movement is more of a hiccup than a gallup, but that’s funny, too.)

Director Karen Kessler makes the most of Kauzlaric’s script with sharp, clever staging that continues to surprise, whether she’s showing D’Artagnan (given lots of energy and charm by Drew Vidal) bringing flowers to the evil Milady night after night, or a series of irascible innkeepers (all played by Rhys Lovell) who pop up on D’Artagnan’s travels. The laughs and the story are there.

I never understood why there were so many swordfights in a tale about musketeers, but in this adaptation, all the rapier clash and dash gets its due as choreographed by Kevin Asselin. And wonder of wonders, there are muskets, too! Yes, that’s right. You will finally see musketeers wielding muskets.

Vidal is terrific at holding all the strands together from beginning to end, and he plays very well with the other three musketeers, the original One-for-All-and-All-for-One boys. They are drawn somewhat differently here than they are in most versions, but they’re entertaining and effective, nonetheless. Patrick New is stalwart and a little scruffy as Athos, Kevin Rich is smaller than the usual Porthos, but plenty goofy and endearing, and Kareem Bandealy’s Aramis comes off handsome, intelligent and smooth as the conflicted cleric and ladies’ man.

I also liked Magdalyn Donnelly’s feisty take on Constance, D’Artagnan’s love interest. She can be a bit of a simp in some authors’ hands, but here Donnelly creates a smart girl who has a backbone and some wits about her. She’s no match for arch-villain Milady, of course, but who is?

Kathy Logelin, a familiar face from Illinois Shakespeare Festivals past (including the previous “Three Musketeers” in 2000), makes a formidable Milady. She looks much too sweet to be so dastardly, but that works very well to explain how Milady gets away with so much. No one expects perfidy in such a pretty package. Costume designer Kathleen Jaremski has clothed her in shining white gowns, which adds to her oh-so-innocent exterior.

Also on the villainous side, George Judy and Steve Wojtas twirl their mustaches nicely as Cardinal Richelieu and his main henchman, the Comte de Rochefort, and they get good back-up from Nick Dargis, Ken Mooney and Nathan Stark as the Cardinal’s sneering guards.

Rhys Lovell is memorable as virtuous Lord de Winter as well as hilarious as all those quick-change innkeepers, who bring to mind Monty Python and Blackadder, while Gerson Dacanay gives tragic Felton a three-dimensional character in just a few lines, David Marcotte is the wimpiest Louis XIII ever, and Megan Storti and Brian Rooney show off their versatility as wildly different characters over the course of the play.

This “Three Musketeers” has a large cast, a ton of plot, and a whole lot going on. It is to Robert Kauzlaric’s and Karen Kessler’s credit that the pace never lags, the swashbuckling never falters, it’s easy to tell where we are and who’s doing what to whom, and the humor and high spirits just keep on coming.

All for one and one for all? Exactly.

“The Three Musketeers,” by Alexandre Dumas, adapted by Robert Kauzlaric
Illinois Shakespeare Festival
Performed in repertory through August 6th.

Director: Karen Kessler
Costume Designer: Kathleen Jaremski
Scenic Designer: Fred M. Duer
Lighting Designer: Julie Mack
Sound Designer: Jason Knox
Stage Manager: Abigail S. Hartmann
Vocal Coach: Connie DeVeer
Fight Director: Kevin Asselin

Cast: Chris Amos, Kareem Bandealy, Kyle Cameron, Benjamin Cole, Gerson Dacanay, Nick Dargis, Magdalyn Donnelly, Max Ganet, George Judy, Anthony Kayer, Katrina Kuntz, Kathy Logelin, Rhys Lovell, David Marcotte, Ken Mooney, Patrick New, Kevin Rich, Brian Rooney, David Sitler, Nathan Stark, Megan M. Storti, Demetria Thomas, Drew Vidal and Steve Wojtas.