Pretty much anything goes in The Three Musketeers, which opened this week at the Red Deer College Arts Centre.
A young farm boy can blunder around Paris for the day, get himself into three duels, and still live to battle for the king’s honour by joining the fabled musketeers.
In an equally unlikely turn, the French king can be nearly undone by his indiscreet queen and the diamond necklace she gives to her English lover.
The only thing that can’t happen — and unfortunately does in this RDC Theatre Studies production — is for the action to slow down enough to allow the audience time to ruminate about the frothy, silly plot line.
For less thinking and more fighting is definitely better when it comes to this swashbuckling Alexandre Dumas adventure romance, as adapted for the stage by Ken Ludwig.
Director Thomas Usher manages to keep the thrills coming in the first half of the play with the perpetual clanging of sword on sword.
The young hero D’Artagnan, played by Tyler Johnson, gets into one fight after another, as he trips or stumbles into everyone from the captain of the cardinal’s guards to all three musketeers.
As duels go, these ones — choreographed by guest fight director Laryssa Yanchak — were carried out with reasonable aplomb by the cast of second-year students. A few actors really dove into the task, hacking and stabbing at their ‘opponents’ in a confident and entertaining fashion.
Another highlight was the jovial tavern scene in which the three musketeers, D’Artagnan and his sister Sabine (a Ludwig invention) manage to get pie-eyed while bonding over beer. Lynda Adams choreographed the dance moves and Morgan McKee composed music.
Regrettably, the second half of the play didn’t contain nearly enough distracting fights or humour.
While this allowed time to admire the imaginative costumes by Lindsay Rosso-Parama, and set designed as a labyrinth of stairs by Ian Martens, it also left me wondering about certain plot inanities.
For instance, what possible difference would it make to the royals if Cardinal Richelieu and his evil consort did manage to pull two diamonds out of the necklace the queen gave her lover, the Duke of Buckingham?
Would this bring the king to his satin-knickerbockered knees?
It didn’t help that Ludwig provided a lot of clunker lines that fell flat as a pancake. At the masked ball, the cardinal questions why his captain came dressed as a dog instead of a beaver. The captain responds “because my teeth hurt.”
Excuse me. Is there a punch line missing?
With belly laughs clearly absent from the script, actors would have had to play their roles more broadly to come up with funny characterizations.
Several definitely had the right idea, including Constance Isaac as D’Artagnan’s saccharine-sweet love interest, who really shone in a scene that contrasted her innocence against malevolent Milady (Megan Einarson).
Brittany Martyshuk also provided comic moments by sinking her whole heart into the part of Sabine, which might otherwise be a superfluous role.
While Johnson got the bumbling farm boy side of D’Artagnan right, he needs to work on exuding the kind of charisma that would have catapulted the hero into the musketeer ranks so quickly. But the three musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, were respectively played by Chase Cownden, Bret Jacobs and Wayne Deatley in appropriately chivalrous fashion.
Also memorable was J.P. Lord as the wimpy King Louis, who’s easily manipulated by the cardinal, played by Richard Leurer. With this kind of brain trust on the throne, it’s no wonder the French monarchy was brought down a century later.
The promising cast of this production will hopefully quicken the pacing with more performances. Otherwise, all the ingredients are in place. The popularity of Dumas’s story speaks for itself — its sheer silliness shouldn’t matter as long as the plot keeps chugging along.
With that in mind, pick up your stage swords, good gentlemen, and rise to the challenge!
The Three Musketeers continues to Feb. 15.