By Charles Brousse
Combine one of Ken Ludwig’s guaranteed laugh-a-minute scripts, a cast that is gifted in the art of low comedy and a director who believes that there is no such thing as being overly broad when it comes to squeezing every last drop of humor out of the material and then adding a few more of his own invention—and what do you have?
Answer: A noisy, exciting evening of theater that will probably send you away smiling. What I’m describing here is Marin Shakespeare Company’s super-lively production of Ludwig’s dramatized version of Alexandre Dumas’ classic novel, The Three Musketeers, on view through August 27 on the group’s Forest Meadows Amphitheatre stage.
Older readers of this column may remember the novel from their school days, when there was no Harry Potter fantasy or Stephen King thriller to occupy vacation time. First published in serialized form from March-July, 1844, it’s a highly romanticized tale of how dedication to honor, chivalry and heroism created a special bond among several members of King Louis XIII of France’s personal guards, expressed in their famous motto, “All for one and one for all.” Ludwig’s updated 2006 version proclaims the same message—many times!—but with a cheeky irreverence that befits today’s discomfort with self-proclaimed heroes. It’s also a perfect platform for director Robert Currier’s style of physical comedy and his interjections of barely disguised satirical references to contemporary politics. Top it off with the contagious fun that everyone on stage seems to be having, and you have a formula that’s hard to beat.
It’s 1625 and all of France is in turmoil caused by the power struggle between wacky but benevolent King Louis (Richard Pallaziol) and the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Rod Gnapp). Against their elderly father’s (Pallaziol again) advice, the ingenuous young D’Artagnan (Jonah Robinson), accompanied by his sister Sabine (Anne Norland, dressed as a man in a nod to feminist aspirations) travel to Paris determined to help defend the monarch and his queen, Anne of Austria (Anna Joham). There they meet a trio of fellow Gascons, Athos (Patrick Russell), Porthos (Jackson Currier) and Aramis (Dean Linnard). Unaware that they are Louis’ musketeers, D’Artagnan challenges each to a duel—on the same day, no less! His “adversaries” are amused by the chutzpah of this callow upstart, but before things get serious, they are attacked by a band of Richelieu’s men, and his bravery in battle convinces them that the lad has potential.
In classical melodramatic style, Good and Evil face off against each other. Amid the general corruption, intrigue, adultery and murder, the musketeers with the white feathers in their caps hold firm to their noble mission and, in the process, demonstrate the overwhelming value of collegial loyalty.
Marin Shakespeare Company’s large and capable cast features outstanding performances on both sides of the moral dividing line. The forces of darkness are led by Rod Gnapp’s Richelieu, Nick Mandracchia as his henchman Rochefort, and Elena Wright as the scheming Countess de Winter (aka Milady). Besides the musketeers, key defenders of Truth and Justice include Luisa Frasconi’s Constance and Anne Norland’s lively Sabine.
Frankly, however, Ludwig’s/Currier’s The Three Musketeers is not about plot or performances. It’s about fighting. Every few minutes, most of the show’s male characters are drawing their rapiers and having at it, back and forth across the wide stage, up and down steps. The wonder is that for all of the whirlwind of thrusts and parries, no one suffers injuries—a testimonial to the skill of fight director Richard Pallaziol (yes, the same Richard Pallaziol who appears as an actor in the play). I can only marvel at the hours of rehearsal that this level of coordination must have required.
Make no mistake, Musketeers is not a great play. It’s a pleasant diversion with a positive message about the value of loyalty to one’s ideals—no more, no less. These days, that’s not a bad thing to have around.
NOW PLAYING: The Three Musketeers runs through August 27 at Forest Meadows Amphitheatre, Dominican University, 890 Belle Ave., San Rafael; 415/499-4488; marinshakespeare.org.