Get set for heroism, treachery, love-at-first-sight moments — and plenty of sword fighting — as the swashbuckling tale of The Three Musketeers unfolds at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.
The action-packed romance, written by Alexandre Dumas and adapted by Ken Ludwig, opens on Thursday, Feb. 6, on the mainstage, just in time for Valentine’s Day.
The RDC Theatre Studies production should have all the elements to hold an audience in thrall — for director Thomas Usher believes Dumas had no greater goal than giving the people what they want when he originally penned The Three Musketeers as a magazine serial in 1844.
“He wrote it for the masses,” said Usher. “If someone didn’t like a scene, he would change it to make it more exciting . . . .”
You could say that Dumas came up with the perfect tale for the attention-challenged 21st century. “Audiences back then weren’t much different — they would go see a play if it had a good sword fight!” said Usher, who noted the story is based on historical characters and Romantic literature.
“It’s melodramatic, there are escapes and rescues, and we can cheer for good to overcome evil in the world . . . . Everybody needs a hero.”
The Ludwig stage version stays true to the book’s fast-moving plot, with overlapping scenes, but introduces a new character. Instead of having the farm boy D’Artagnan set off for Paris to fulfil his dream of becoming a musketeer with a male servant, he is accompanied by his sister.
This adds a female voice to what’s otherwise a male-heavy story, said Usher.
The “fun, light-hearted” script follows Dumas’s familiar trajectory. It throws D’Artagnan in with the three musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, and the four join forces (“all for one and one for all!”) to defend the honour of the Queen of France against the evil Cardinal Richelieu.
The cast of 12 second-year theatre students, who play upwards of 30 roles, had to learn about life among the upper classes in the play’s 17th-century setting.
To make their characters sound more authentically historic, the actors practised precise diction — although Usher noted there are anachronistic references in speeches that will appeal to a contemporary audience.
The young actors also had to learn about the code of chivalry — how gentlemen behaved towards each other and the fairer sex. “There’s this ideal of service to a greater cause, and the purity of love. And the idea of trying to do the right thing, no matter the cost, and putting duty above yourself,” said Usher.
Of course, sword fighting instruction was needed, so Laryssa Yanchak, Canada’s first female award-winning, certified fight director, was brought in to teach lunges, parries and deflection tactics.
The 17th century spirit will also be invoked in the play’s costumes and sets.
Costume designer Lindsay Ross-Parama, a Springbrook resident who studied at RDC, is pulling together an eclectic mix of garments that reference the 17th century’s full skirts and frilly frock coats, but also mirror some of the script’s anachronisms.
Ian Martens, of Calgary, designed a set that mimics both the winding streets of old Paris, and the script’s twists and turns. Usher said much of the play’s action will take place on stairs resembling M.C. Escher’s famous graphic of the optical illusion staircase that turns in on itself.