It’s not easy to stage anything by Alexandre Dumas without either going over the top or completely missing the point. Dumas himself was a romantic; the very fact of it makes him seem almost farcical on today’s stage. He was also a comic, and gags — as we know — often lose their edge as they age.
In case you missed all of the film versions of the musketeers’ adventures (if you allow for parodies, there have been at least 50), the story involves a young adventurer, d’Artagnan, who wants to join the King of France’s elite corps of musket-toting soldiers. (Muskets were being replaced by rifles as Dumas wrote, so the musketeer was already a bit of an antique figure.) There’s lots of political intrigue, which meshes with romantic intrigue and provides the rationale for some wonderful, bang-up scenes of sword- and knife-fighting.
This production (and all the film versions) make the Musketeers more appealing than Dumas intended. As written, they’re a bunch of hair-trigger Hells Angels ready to fight at the slightest provocation and thoroughly contemptuous of their social inferiors.
Fiction and metafiction
So how does Quintessence Theatre pull off an engaging production? For starters, they cast Dumas as a character, making us conscious of the fiction at a second level. As played by the delightful Anita Holland, he provides some snarky commentary on the action and caulks the offstage gaps in the story. Dumas aside, almost all the characters and most of the action are played without a wink or a nod to the audience: The action and the dialogue carry the story with hardly a raised eyebrow and only occasional invitations to the audience to get in on the joke.
The production in the round is a masterpiece, intimately presented in the jewel-box Sedgwick Theater. The references to the submerged sexuality behind all that swashbuckling and all-for-onesing are apt. Best of all are the fight scenes: Who hasn’t winced at a clumsy brawl onstage? This time, in the hands of fight director Ian Rose, the action is both beautiful and believable.
As is usually the case at Quintessence, the cast is superb. Andrew Criss does remarkable double duty as both the captain of the musketeers and a quivering ménagier. Sean Close is evilly effete as Louis XIII, and Connor Hammond is a suitably jejune d’Artagnan.