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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

Swashbuckling through space

Published: November 16, 2007
Section: Arts, Etc.

For the second leg of the 2007-2008 season, the Brandeis Theater Company invited Double Edge Theatre, a company based in Ashfield, Mass., to bring their unique artistic vision to the Spingold Theater in a stage adaptation of Alexandre Dumass classic novel, The Three Musketeers.

While Double Edges eye for theatrical spectacle is nothing short of stunning, structural problems leave the hour-long production shy of being a fulfilling stand-alone evening of theatre.

The play begins with the arrival in Paris of the young DArtagnan (Matthew Crider GRAD), who recently had an important letter from his father, intended to grant him entrance to the ranks of the Musketeers, stolen from him.

He shortly thereafter offends Athos (Robert Serrell GRAD), Porthos (Anthony Stockard GRAD), and Aramis (Brian Weaver GRAD), earning duels with all three of the titular musketeers. When they all meet and try to work out who gets the first shot at DArtagnan, a quartet of Cardinal Richelieus soldiers arrives, and DArtagnan earns the Musketeers respect by aiding them in the ensuing scuffle.

Meanwhile, the Queen (Sara Oliva GRAD) has secretly been having an affair with the Duke of Buckingham (Josh Davis GRAD). News of this reaches Richelieu (Double Edges Carlos Uriona), who plots with King Louis (Catherine Wagner 09) to publicly humiliate the Queen. So it falls to DArtagnan and his new friends to make a perilous trip to England to try to outwit the Cardinals cunning lackey Milady de Winter (Hannah Wilson GRAD) and save the Queens honor.

Where the production succeeds, and brilliantly at that, is in the artistic vision of the piece. After the brief opening scene in the lobby of the theatre, the audience is truly led into the world of the play, standing on what is typically the stage of the Laurie Theater as the action unfolds all around. At various times, the audience is surrounded by up to half a dozen tableaux and is treated to four sword fights simultaneously.

Upon the Musketeers departure to London, the audience moves past a curtain onto the Mainstage, which features a delightfully rowdy inn and a twenty-foot metal tower with a rope bridge. When the audience is finally ushered into the house to sit for the remainder of the show, the visuals reach their peaks, with an exquisite masquerade ball, a fight on the rope bridge, and a stunning and innovative battle. The design team and the director have created something to be most proud of for this part of the production.

The other chief success of The Three Musketeers is in the mood and atmosphere it establishes. Much of the production is underscored by live music played by members of the ensemble, which complements the action beautifully throughout and helps engross the audience in the world of the play. Similarly, wonderful a cappella performances mark the times when the audience moves, which really help establish the atmosphere of what is happening.

The text, despite its shortcomings, preserves a lot of swashbuckling swagger that lightens the mood of much of the play and makes it a lot of fun, as Crider, Serrell, Stockard, and Weaver submerge themselves in their characters eccentricities and sense of adventure. The Musketeers lecture on how DArtagnan must have a lackey before going to England stands as a particularly memorable celebration of the shows swashbuckling spirit.

The production runs into trouble, however, from a structural standpoint. A couple of key moments of the plot do not even make their ways onto the stage, many other scenes feel somewhat clipped, and the movement from scene to scene occasionally feels jumpy.

This jumpiness also limits room for character development, which proves especially problematic with the character of Milady. The audience gets to see her cunning at work with one of the more normally dramatic highlights of the show in her seduction of Felton (Sheldon Best 08) and orchestration of Buckinghams assassination, but they do not get a real sense of why she does what she does. The fault for this seems to lie with the text;

so much simply gets squeezed out by trying to steamroll through a 700-page novel in an hour. This leaves a large ensemble filled with apparently very good actors who just do not get a proper opportunity to show off their acting skills.

There are a few things one can do as an audience member to help take the edge off some of the productions shortcomings.

First off, read the synopsis in the playbill. It is included for a reason, and takes some edge off of the jumpiness of the text. Second, be ready to be a moving audience. In the brief opening sequence in the lobby, the action starts in front of the gallery, at the end of the lobby opposite the entrance. In the Laurie, the action revolves 360-degrees around the audience space. Most of it is raised, except for the scenes directly in front of the curtain, so standing closer to the curtain may give the best overall view of the action. Plus, it puts one towards the front of the move into the Mainstagestanding directly behind the benches probably offers the best view for these scenes.

As a whole, the Three Musketeers felt a little disappointing to me. That should in no way take away from the exquisite visuals and use of spaceanyone interested in an exciting exploration of how a theater can be used needs to see this showbut stunning sights and a swashbuckling sense of fun can only take a production so far.

With many scenes feeling a little clipped and the pervading jumpy feel to the movement between them, the storytelling aspect of the show just did not hold up well enough to make for a completely satisfying evening of theater.