Parker Smith review: 'Three Musketeers'

Published 12:00 am Friday, January 28, 2011

By Deirdre Parker Smith
Step back into the 17th century for the evening and buckle your swash. “The Three Musketeers” are dueling and making France safe again in Piedmont Players’ latest production.
With some rich costumes, good swordplay and charming characters, the play is entertainment for all ages — and, at just over 2 hours, including intermission, it beats an evening of reality TV.
The play, adapted from Alexandre Dumas’ book by Ken Ludwig, focuses on the story of D’Artagnan, who ends up being the fourth Musketeer. Casey Suddeth, a senior at Carson High School, has the combination of naivete and determination that makes the character appealing.
He and his sister, Sabine, played with bravado by Lauren Gaskill, a sophomore at West Rowan, are off to Paris — to follow in his father’s footsteps as a Musketeer, and she to attend a convent school.
Yeah, right. Sabine is as good a swordsman as her brother and is hungry for adventure.
The Musketeers, Athos, Porthos and Aramis, are true to the characters. Athos is brave, but troubled; Porthos is proud and well-dressed; Aramis, studying to be a priest, has not been able to deny the pleasures of the flesh — yet.
Cale Evans plays Athos with a quiet intensity; Russell Bennett is full of flourishes, and Justin Dionne, as Aramis, shows us why the ladies find him hard to resist.
They make quite a trio, but the way the play is written, we don’t get to know them very well. They always arrive in time to save the day — with one exception.
The play has many secondary characters that are important to the action, such as Queen Anne’s lady-in-waiting Constance, sweetly played by McKenna Bernhardt. No wonder D’Artagnan falls for her.
Queen Anne, who, unfortunately becomes part of the plan to destroy the king, is played by Emily Bartsch, very pretty and not a fool, like her husband, Louis XIII.
And then there’s Louis, played with a twitter and a twinkle and a giggle by Bill Greene, who always drew laughs on opening night.
But for pure wickedness, there’s no one like Cardinal Richelieu, played with an evil flair by Piedmont veteran Shawn Van Wallendael. He all but twirls his mustache as he plots and plans, pitting his guards against the Musketeers.
His chief guard, Rochefort, played by Jacob Brayton with a bit of nuance, is despicable, but redeemable.
And if you like your wickedness with a pretty face, there’s the reprehensible Milady de Winter. Katie Haeuser plays her with style, evil practically dripping from her fingertips.
Plot note: Be sure to listen to Athos’s story of lost love to understand how Milady fits in to all of this.
The plot, much simplified from the book is this: The king is a fool, the cardinal wants to rule France, the Musketeers defend the king mostly because they feel loyal to the queen.
Richelieu will do anything to get his way, constantly launching attacks on the Musketeers, digging for revealing secrets about the queen (she has a lover, the Duke of Buckingham, played by Nathan Prater).
Those who protect and defend the good queen are in constant danger. When Richelieu launches a plan that will leave her in disgrace, the boys jump into action.
Before all this, of course, D’Artagnan, accidentally insults Athos, Porthos and Aramis, each of whom calls him out for a duel.
Sabine, posing as his servant, instantly falls for Athos.
The cardinal catches them and tries to have them all arrested for dueling.
D’Artagnan meets the fair Constance, saving her from the evil cardinal’s guard as she completes a secret mission for the queen. D’Artagnan is smitten.
He must repeatedly prove himself before his comrades accept him as a brave, courageous fighter.
“All for one and one for all!” they shout as they enter into each adventure.
As Milady and the cardinal plan to dethrone and kill the king, our Musketeers stay one step ahead to save the day.
Leonard uses a simple set, painted like a chessboard, with a moving platform that includes a convenient balcony — always useful for grand gestures and entrances.
The costumes add to the period feel, and many of them were made by a volunteer, Jim Beaudoin, while some are vintage Catawba College costumes and other pieces were rented.
The swordplay is well done, if a bit slow at times. One night scene with multiple swordfights was dimly lit, so some of the action sort of disappeared.
Two caveats, one oft-repeated here: Please enunciate and speak a little louder. With all the physical activity, some words were lost on opening night. And, please, for those of us with failing sight, make the print bigger in the playbill. The biographies of the cast are practically unreadable in a very small type size. They do a fine job, and we should be able to learn more about them.
Rounding out the cast are Joe McGee as the head of the Musketeers, Robert Hackett and Pamela Middlemiss, as the senior D’Artagnans; ladies-in-waiting McClain Miles, Micala Hall, Nora El Khouri Spencer; and assorted guards, innkeepers, etc., James Bigsby, Darrell Brown, Ryan Lilly, Dean Middlemiss, Jameson Middlemiss (a family affair), Todd Paris and John Sofley.
“The Three Musketeers,” underwritten by Oak Park Retirement Community, continues tonight and Saturday and Feb. 2-5 at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. at the Meroney Theatre in downtown Salisbury. Call 704-633-5471 for tickets.