'The Three Musketeers' is thrilling, but poorly plotted
Review: 'The Three Musketeers' opens the 2017-18 season with plenty of sword fights and some problematic casting.
By Ben Farr| September 23, 2017
Editor's note: This review was originally published at The NewsHouse on Sept. 23, 2017.
Clouds hung overhead inside the Syracuse Stage’s Archbold Theater Friday night while several sword holstering men took the stage. Audience members filed in to a sold-out theater as the actors practiced their swordsmanship, giving eager viewers a chance to pull out all the fencing related jokes they'd been saving.
“Have you been practicing with your butter knife?” said one person in the back.
The play is based on Alexandre Dumas’s 1844 novel of the same name. The story is a standard good versus evil narrative, as three swordsman form an alliance that, and several tragic romances are spawned. Play adapter Catherine Bush did a decent job capturing the gist of Dumas’s 400-page story in just over a two-hour performance, but much of the plot felt rushed. While characters described a plan on one half of the stage, the other half changed lighting and showed the characters carrying out the plan. Milady, one of the villains, traveled to England, organized a ball, and stole diamonds from the Duke of Westminster in the same scene that she was given the plan. Scenes like this gave viewers lots of plot in a brief period, but had no tension. The plans always seemed to work.
The lights lowered and immediately there was a chase through the aisles. D’Artagnan, the young protagonist of The Three Musketeers, leaped onto the stage to challenge Rochefort, one of the villains, to a duel. They drew their swords and clashed. This exciting opening set up the rest of The Three Musketeers, where, no matter what the scene, fights and swordplay always loomed.
The soundtrack alternated between brass-heavy, period-correct music and percussive beats that were reminiscent of Law & Order, which both worked well at setting the mood for scenes. The fight choreography took full advantage of the swashbuckling sounds from the swords, creating a rhythm for each fight. One disturbing scene involved a musketeer snapping the neck of a villain in a moment of intimacy. A loud crack played over the theater speakers as he twisted her neck, which elicited, horrifyingly, a roar of applause from the audience.
The comedy similarly ranged from effective to cringe-worthy. A French-speaking woman pantomiming audience members being kicked out created a meta-moment that made even the “no photos” reminder funny.
However, it was disappointing to see the play use its diverse cast members in the service of stereotype. It was supposed to be funny that the one black musketeer loved gold and diamonds, and during the second act, after an insult about his height, the one Asian actor in the production went on a martial arts rampage. The audience cheered while vaguely oriental music accompanied the fight.
The set and lighting were all polished and highly impressive. Composed of a stage-filling courtyard, twin stairs leading to an upper balcony, and two towers, the set was appropriately versatile. Wear on the buildings, ornate ribbons, and chandeliers made some scenes seem like they were lifted from paintings.
In quieter moments, the lighting produced exaggerated shadows on actors faces. Coupled with excellent makeup and even better moustaches, some characters looked like they had just stepped out of a Rembrandt. The Inn-Keeper is so still while D’Artagnan relays sad news, that he looks like he might even be posing for a portrait.
While plot and comedy leave something to be desired, The Three Musketeers is a delight to watch and the audience on Friday said as much with a standing ovation. Come for the epic fight scenes and stay for the wonderful baroque art direction. The show will be running until October 8th at Syracuse Stage.