by Hugh Hunter
Quintessence ends its fifth season at the old Sedgwick Theater in Mt. Airy with an incredibly high energy production of “The Three Musketeers.” Ensemble members Mattie Hawkinson, Josh Carpenter and Sean Close create a play from the first part of the classic historical romance of Alexandre Dumas (1844).
The drama teems with so many characters that actors have to play multiple roles. Set in 17th century France, the vitality of this costumed spectacle is infectious (costume designer Jane Casanave). The stage throbs with action, a theater in the round kept bare to give room for all the fights and swordplay (choreographer Janet Pilla Marini and fight director Ian Rose).
Young d’Artagnan is a knight-errant who dreams of becoming a royal musketeer, but en route to Paris he gets into a silly fight with Rochefort (Ken Sandberg). After this fracas d’Artagnan is challenged by each of the three musketeers. But when armed guards try to enforce the Cardinal’s ban on dueling, d’Artagnan and the musketeers join forces to fight them off.
There are three big fight scenes in the first 15 minutes! Dramatic complications follow. We see Cardinal Richelieu plotting against Louis XIII (Sean Close) with the help of spies like Bonacieux (Andrew Criss) and Milady de Winter. We see damsels in distress — Queen Anne (Julia Frey) and Madame Bonacieux (Rachel Brodeur).
But those flashing swords are never off stage for long. The three musketeers — Aramis (Alan Brincks), Porthos (Gregory Isaac) and Athos (Michael Brusasco) — are physically imposing and contrast vividly with the youth and nimble delicacy of Connor Hammond as d’Artagnan.
Director Alexander Burns encourages you to take the play lightheartedly. Author Dumas (Anita Holland) appears in tuxedo to introduce the work. Then he hangs around in the balcony to offer explanation and commentary which has a comical and distancing effect. (During intermission Dumas even flirts with a few ladies in the audience, something Dumas himself might easily have done.)
But as you take in all the mayhem, you find yourself asking where the loyalties of these musketeers truly lie. The easy answer is that all four are loyal to the king. But d’Artagnan is moved to act mostly because of his infatuation with Madame Bonacieux, and masculine vanity underlies the musketeers’ chivalry.
In fact, the musketeers do not seem truly loyal to anything larger than their declaration “All for one and one for all.” They are loyal to each other. Written in the shadow of the Revolution of 1848, you could see “Musketeers” as a metaphor for how people create personal meaning in the midst of social collapse.
In any event, swashbuckling “Musketeers” is a lot of fun. Director Burns indicates that Quintessence may produce part two in the future. If so it will be interesting to see how they handle matters when the musketeers’ idealized world of brotherhood, romance and chivalry grows dark.
Quintessence Theatre is located at 7137 Germantown Ave. “The Three Musketeers” will run through May 10. Tickets are available at www.quintessencetheatre.org or at the door.