Cleveland Play House’s ‘The Three Musketeers’ gets to the point
It is a fact that Cleveland Play House loves a challenge especially when there is a chance to cast a spotlight on diversity and history. With the Catherine Bush adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ epic (904 page) 1844 historical adventure novel of life in the French court of Louis XIV they have done just that.
As for diversity there is much to be admired. Rather than the typical all white predominately male cast of old there are some significant changes for the better. Hassiem Muhammad (D’Artagnan) is Black. Sean Maximo Campos (Athos) is Asian. Jasmine Rush (Porthos) is Female and Black. Eli Lynn (Aramis) is a white trans nonbinary actor. Nehassaiu Degannes (Milady De Winter) is Black. Dawn L. Troupe (Captain Treville) is Black. The costuming is a mix of 1700’s period with some modern steam punk touches added (think Porthos in tight fitting leather pants with lots of metal decorates attached). On top of that you have 16 actors playing 65 parts which must make for entertaining intervals in the back stage changing areas.
The show is chock full of fights (sword and otherwise), intrigue, secret tattoos, secret lovers and wives, poison potions, romance, diamonds, English Lords, French Kings and Queens, shy servant turned kung fu fighting machine with lots of wounded and bloody participants as well as a few bodies laying about after all the carnage.
It is 1625 as a young D’Artagnan leaves his home in Gascony to travel to Paris in order to join the King’s Musketeers of the Guard. At an inn he is attacked by Rochefort (Josh Innerst) who is an agent of the evil Cardinal Richelieu (Leraldo Anzaldua) and Milady De Winter (Nehassaiu deGannes) Rochefort’s lover who knocks D’Artagnan out with a weighted purse bag. Rochefort rifles D’Artagnan’s pockets and finds a letter of introduction from the young man’s father to Captain Treville (Dawn L. Troupe) who is leader of the Musketeers. Rochefort rips up the letter and escapes.
Now missing the letter of introduction, D’Artagnan manages to wrangle an audience with the head of the Musketeers, Captain Treville who refuses the young man’s entrance into the Musketeers but instead writes a letter of introduction to a lessor King’s Guard with the possibility of advancement at a later time. The Three Musketeers are announced and Captain Treville has D’Artagnan hide on the stair case as she dresses down the trio over a brawl they had gotten into the night before with Rochefort and his henchmen. D’Artagnan comes out of hiding and is introduced to the Musketeers who are quick to make fun of his country dress and manners. Finding himself insulted, D’Artagnan challenges the three to a duel. Back then it did not take much to start a sword pulling fight as is seen over and over.
The Musketeers and D’Artagnan meet at the inn where the three are surprised to learn that D’Artagnan plans to fight all three of them at the same time. As the fight begins Rochefort and his men arrive and attempt to arrest the four for dueling. A huge fight erupts and D’Artagnan at various times saves each of the Musketeers while dispatching Rochefort and his men. The three (Athos, Aramis and Porthos) elect the young man to the Musketeers on the spot as they go off to D’Artagnan’s new lodging where he meets Constance (Kristina Gabriela) the inn keeper’s daughter and servant to the Queen. D’Artagnan falls madly in love with Constance.
Meanwhile, Queen Anne (Jordan Taylor) is having an affair with the English Duke of Buckingham (played that night by understudy Ryan Zarecki). King Louis XIV had given the Queen a gift of twelve diamonds which she then gave to her lover as a keepsake. Through his army of spies, Cardinal Richelieu, who wants war between England and France has Milady De Winter travel to England and steal two of the gems which she brings to the Cardinal. Richelieu then persuades the King to have the Queen wear the diamonds to an upcoming soiree that the Cardinal is hosting. The Queen reaches out to Constance who contacts her new love and D’Artagnan is hastily dispatched to England to fetch the jewels only to find that two of the gems are missing.
Cleveland Play House’s “The Three Musketeers” is billed as “jam-packed with secret plots, sweeping romance, treacherous spies and dazzling swordplay.” For the most part it delivers. There is a lot of swordplay almost to the point of being a bit too much and what there is seems sometimes contrived. Some of the individual fencing battles are quite engaging while others seem to just be going through the motions. There is one segment where the action is done in slow motion which gives an interesting twist. There is also the added death in the second act of a principle that is new which took everyone by surprise.
As for the acting it is adequate bordering on better to good. Some of the scenes seemed rushed as others drag a bit. There does not seem to be a sense of easy flow to the play. The interesting combinations of gender and ethnicity work very well. Women are portrayed as women not as disguised men. It is an honest play as far as the casting. Scene changes are done aptly by the actors themselves which saves on time.
Standouts include Hassiem Muhammad as D’Artagnan who brings a tremendous amount of energy to the part. Nehassaiu deGannes as Mi-Lady de Winter who is boo worthy as the female villain. Josh Innerst as Rochefort is another one you love to hate. Tom Myers as King Louis XIV takes what little stage time he has and really expands the role to hilarious proportions combined with an outrageous collection of costuming that includes a football size bejeweled cod piece. Leraldo Anzalduo as Cardinal Richelieu plays the perfectly conniving power behind the throne. The Three Musketeers, Sean Maximo Campos as Athos, Eli Lynn as Aramis and Jasmine Rush as Porthos work well together with a spirited friendship that shines through. Lastly, Kristina Gabriela as Constance and Bridget Kim as Kitty play the girl friends of D’Artagnan and Planchet bringing a sense of romance and delight.
The production is aptly directed by Laura Kepley. Fight Director is Rod Kinter who manages to get a lot from his pupils. Scenic Design is by Paige Hathaway whose multi tiered extravaganza is perfect for fighting in. Costuming is by Lex Liang that brilliantly combines naughty leather with period costumes for an interesting interpretation of the era. Alberto Segarra is in charge of the Lighting Design that works well to set the proper mood. Curtis Craig does the Sound Design which is crisp and clear.
Why do you want to see this play? It is an old story with a new twist in casting and costuming. It is a timeless classic that everyone should see in some form. The acting tries hard to stay out of the way of the action and the fight scenes are real enough to convince. In a phrase...All For One…
“The Three Musketeers” will be on stage in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square through May 22, 2022. For more information and tickets go to https://www.clevelandplayhouse.com/ or call (216) 241-6000.