OLT’s Three Musketeers: More Than Its Share Of Rousing Moments

Reviewed by Jamie Portman

Categories: Community Theatre

Ottawa Little Theatre’s production of The Three Musketeers begins on a
burst of energy — a  sword battle that pursues its merry way both on
and off stage.
It’s an engaging beginning, and a nifty way of introducing us to
D’Artagnan, the aspiring Musketeer who’s getting a final tutoring in
swordplay from his swashbuckling dad before leaving for Paris to
fulfill his ambition.
These moments also provide a sound demonstration of the production’s
strengths. Director Stavros Sakiadis’s robust, slightly
tongue-in-cheek approach reflects the sensibility of Ken Ludwig’s
cheeky dramatization of the Alexandre Dumas novel. We’re also getting
our first glimpse of Graham Price’s splendid multi-level set, which
evokes enough of the past to take us back to 17th Century France while
also having enough flexibility to keep rearranging itself into new and
different venues during the show’s adroitly managed scene breaks.
Price is also responsible for the atmospheric lighting, while Glynis
Ellens provides outstanding period costuming which perhaps reaches its
zenith during the masked costume ball that is an undoubted highlight
of the evening.

Nevertheless Sakiadis and his hard-working cast of of 21 are also
banking on the hope that playgoers will buy into the tricky
sensibility of this adaptation. Ken Ludwig is best-known as the author
of Lend Me A Tenor, a comedy staple on the theatre circuit, and the
delightful book for the Gershwin musical, Crazy For You. But with The
Three Musketeers, Ludwig seems to have drawn his tone from British
director Richard Lester’s impudent 1970 film version of the Dumas
novel, a project originally conceived for The Beatles, as well as the
comic anarchy of Mel Brooks.
Readers of the Dumas novel will know that it abounds in robust good
humour, especially when it comes to the camaraderie among the
Musketeers. But the sometimes brash  buffoonery of Ludwig’s script is
something else: it carries the danger that The Three Musketeers will
degenerate into a cartoon, and this threat is not always avoided at
OLT. On the other hand, given the temperament of this adaptation, some
line of comedy must be maintained — yet when an intended moment of
comic violence morphs into a display of raw physical brutality,
there’s a sense of dislocation and unpleasantness.
The production, so adept at giving us swashbuckling vigour, therefore
shows some uncertainty when it comes to finding the right voice for
the material. This is reflected in some performances that emerge as no
more than adequate.
Even so, the virtues of this production remain substantial. Ludwig’s
script — which, for the record, is infinitely superior to the Peter
Raby version twice presented at Stratford — does celebrate the heady
pleasures of the original, particularly in the first act as we follow
the bumbling young D’Artagnan in his quest to become a Musketeer and
thereby demonstrate his loyalty to King Louis Xlll. The scenes in
which he stumbles into duels with the three Musketeers of the title —
Athos, Porthos and Aramis — are brought off with engaging good humour.
But they also work at defining character — and, in so doing, introduce
us to five of the show’s strongest performances.
Robbie Clement doesn’t just bring a gauche, puppy-dog likeability to
the character of D’Artagnan, the country boy forced into speedy
maturity by his entry into the big city and the world of political
skulduggery. His athletic dexterity is also awesome to behold. As for
the trio of Musketeers who are initially hostile to his blunders only
to end up as friends and comrades, each of them is neatly defined. Jon
Dickey’s Porthos is an amusing dandy, Ezechial Leno’s Aramis a
conflicted romantic, and Ian Gillies’s Athos a tough-minded
pragmatist.
There’s also Emily Walsh, terrific as D’Artagan’s feisty sister. You
won’t find her in the novel: she’s been thrown into the mix by
playwright Ludwig, and whenever she shows up on stage, you can be sure
her sword-wielding presence will help restore momentum to proceedings
that sometimes flag.
These five performers continue to be good company, despite a second
act that starts losing steam as the Musketeers seek to thwart a
dastardly plot by the evil Cardinal Richelieu to overthrow the king.
Perhaps the frivolity of Ludwig’s dramatization is one reason we
remain sceptical of the high stakes involved in this story. One thing,
however, is certain: within the mischievous context of this
adaptation, we need some convincing demonstrations of villainy.
Christopher Glenn’s Richelieu, a formidable figure in his scarlet
robes, is an ingratiating, honey-tongued monster, but where is the
undercurrent of real menace? This is cheerfully make-believe
wickedness. Rebecca Laviolette plays the wicked Milady, the cardinal’s
conniving co-conspirator, at a low-octane level that is perplexing,
given that this character is considered one of literature’s supreme
female villains.
In the case of Richelieu’s faithful henchman, Rochefort, a different
problem arises. Here we’re getting the evening’s most compelling bad
guy — except that she isn’t. Despite the swaggering menace that  the
excellent Kyla Gray brings to many scenes, the fact remains that, with
this character, gender-neutral casting simply does not work.
Furthermore, some of Blair’s moments underscore the production’s
problems with tonal fluidity. This Rochefort is at her  most alarming
when  she’s administering a series of vicious kicks to the body of
D’Artagnan. There’s no comic schtick here, so the scene hurtles out of
control. But there are other moments which do go for the comedy: when
a furious Richelieu is throttling Rochefort, one gets irresistible
cartoon images of Captain Hook castigating the hapless Smee in Peter
Pan.
In fairness, however, this material would challenge any theatre
company, so here’s the bottom line. Shortcomings aside, OLT has still
managed to harness its creative resources to a high degree, thereby
providing a rousing evening which will provide legitimate
entertainment to a great many theatregoers.
The Three Musketeers
By Ken Ludwig
Ottawa Little Theatre to Dec. 17
Director: Stavros Sakiadis


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