France was still embroiled in revolution when the story of The Three Musketeers first appeared in 1844. So, even though the story itself is set in the early 17th century, the battle between republicans and monarchists for the soul of the nation was still being hotly contested. Ken Ludwig's fun, high-energy adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic tale of honor avenged ensures the dark humor inherent in political turmoil continues to be relevant today.
The plot is a familiar one — the young d'Artagnan (Evan Grande) is dispatched by his father to follow in the parental footsteps and join the Musketeers of the Guard, whose primary role is to protect King Louis XIII (David Belton Powell) from the machinations of the most unholy Cardinal Richelieu (Todd Hoberecht). Along the way, he falls in with the three titular Musketeers, falls in love with Queen Anne's confidante, restores the queen's reputation and condemns Richelieu to a life in exile with his good friends the Borgias. Ludwig adds an extra twist to the tale with the introduction of Sabine, d'Artagnan's tomboy sister (Camille Borrowdale), whom he is supposed to be delivering to a convent school in Paris (she, of course, has other ideas).
Poor d'Artagnan — not only is he forced to wear his father's old hat, which bears a remarkable resemblance to a chicken, on his journey to Paris, but he manages to separately insult all three Musketeers, resulting in commitments to fight duels at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight. On top of that, he has a 1 a.m. date with the lovely Constance (Marguerite Hockaday), whom he rescued after she was attacked by Cardinal Richelieu's henchmen Rochefort (Jaison Chand) and Ravanche (Brad Harrington) in their quest to steal a letter she was carrying from the Duke of Buckingham to the queen.
Meanwhile, over on the dark side, Richelieu is plotting with his niece and pet spy, Milady de Winter (Melo Rhae) to bring about the downfall of the queen (Rebecca Tauber) by revealing her secret relationship with Buckingham (Carl McGahan). But honor is served in the end and almost everyone who deserves to live happily ever after does so — at least until the sequel (Count of Monte Cristo, anyone?).
Grande carries his quick wit and masterful swordplay skillfully as d'Artagnan; his stage presence feels a little lightweight but this will likely improve as he settles into the role. He is admirably complemented by his companions Athos (the fittingly sardonic Jesse March), Porthos (a preening Jordan Tierney) and Aramis (Keenan Hilton in a welcome return the Humboldt stage), as well as the always-reliable Evan Needham as Treville, captain of the Musketeers. Hockaday is a delight as the too-trusting Constance, protecting and supporting her queen, while Tauber carefully balances the roles of loyal queen and secret amoureuse. McGahan is suitably self-important as warmonger Buckingham (and dies wonderfully in a secondary role as a disloyal innkeeper).
Hoberecht is most Machiavellian as the conniving Richelieu — it almost feels as if the audience should be booing and hissing whenever he appears — and both Chand and Harrington turn in appropriately menacing performances as his henchmen. As his perfectly murderous foil, Milady de Winter, Rhae expertly masks her evil intentions with innocence and flattery. Borrowdale excels as the rebellious Sabine, who hasn't quite figured out yet whether she wants to fall in love with a Musketeer or become one herself.
But far and away the most memorable performance comes from Powell as King Louis XIII, mincing around the stage in his silks and satins, gloriously bewigged and tittering at his own wit — a tour de force from one of Humboldt theater's favorite sons. His performance alone is worth the price of admission. Powell also puts in some impressive footwork and swordplay as d'Artagnan and Sabine's father.
In other supporting roles, Gwen Price ably represents the more virtuous aspects of the church as both Mother Superior and Abbess, as does Jane McCaffrey as a nun and two other secondary female characters, Elise and Septime. Tauber also plays d'Artagnan and Sabine's mother and Adele, Needham doubles up as Stanley, and Harrington does so as Fache.
Lighting is by master designer Michael Foster, ably assisted by spotlight-wielders Jonah Moore and Bee Wilson, and the atmospheric sound design is by Rebecca Albee. The simple but effective scenic design is by Michael Charles Smith, and Sydnee Stanton delivers seamless stage management. Director Cleo DeOrio, assisted by Jesse March, skillfully juggles the cast and crew with an acute sense of comic timing; the talented pair of Dell'Arte graduates also choreographed the thrillingly Errol Flynn-esque swordfights.
The Three Musketeers is a must-see production that will have you rooting for the good guys all the way to the satisfying end.
Ferndale Repertory Theatre's The Three Musketeers continues through Oct. 27 with shows Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m. Call 786-5483 or visit www.ferndalerep.org.
Pat Bitton is a freelance writer/editor based in Eureka who is theoretically retired but you know how that goes. She prefers she/her.
North Coast Repertory Theatre's production of Agatha Christie's Spider's Web runs through Oct. 6, with shows Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m. and on Sunday at 2 p.m. Call 442-6278 or visit www.ncrt.net.