The playbill for Carnegie Mellon University’s School of Drama’s aggressive and successful challenge of Andre Dumas’ timeless classic The Three Musketeers employs much space dedicated to “adaptation” – its meaning and its role in the theater. In “Theory of Adaptation” featured in the playbill, director Andrew William Smith states “adaptions accomplish a few things; they bring the source to life in an immediate and kinesthetic way and they transform it to the specifications of a distinct medium such as theater….The audience experiences the transformed source text through the production, tailor-made to and influenced by the political, social, and cultural currents running through its world….An adaptation from 1978 might not be engaging for a 2017 audience; therefore, adapters change the story again and again [however] preserving what they find useful and relevant and revising what they don’t….”
Smith and his extraordinarily talented cast of actors pull off a seamless performance by employing adaptations that leaves the audience quite fulfilled. The use of a musical background score set to match the mood and action, the addition of women as Musketeers, freeze frames that allowed two or even three scenes to be moving on at the same time on the stage, and slow motion action scenes during several of the sword fights all add to the success of this entertaining piece.
This group of talented young actors pulls off realistic slow motion action (we’re used to seeing this on the big and small screens with film editing), but to see a slow motion, vicious, and deadly sword fight take place in real time performed in front of you is something extra to behold. Kudos to Smith and his cast for pulling this off brilliantly. It is a sight that theater-goers should actively seek out when looking for a drama with true entertainment value.
Additionally, Smith’s use of women, Aramis (Lilli Kay) and Captain Treville (Victoria Perdretti), as Musketeers basically are directed and performed so well that it is barely noticeable, coupled by the fact that this ensemble cast is so strong and the pace of the play so quick that the audience doesn’t have time to really allow that adaptation to be of concern, however extraordinary it is.
In this strong performance, it is difficult to select one or two cast members to single out as being “more powerful” and “more persuasive” than any other cast member. This gang of fearless thespians moved fluently on stage and between scenes that, again, the audience barely has time to notice Smith’s adaptations. Musketeer “dandy” Porthos (Freddy Miyares) – truly a diamond in this cast with his ability to stay in exact character during his time on stage – Milady (McKenna Slone), Planchet (Alexandra Miyashiro), Cardinal Bonacieux (John Way), beyond arrogant Rochefort (Isaac Miller), and brave and righteous D’Artagnon (Siddiq Saunderson) put on standout performances in this talent-rich cast. Pollard even recovered from a minor wardrobe malfunction and continued the scene without missing a line, block, or bit of action. That’s how well prepared this cast is.
To wit, not one of Dumas’ original intentions to set up this entertaining and suspense-filled drama is missed or left out, and that is a credit to Smith and his cast.
Adding to the continuous action taking place on stage is an original and “modernist” multipurpose set (scenic design director Sarah Keller and assistant designers Henry Blazer and Adryan Miller-Gorder) offers a stage designed for multi-purpose usage, moving from a cathedral-type “stained glass” window made out of wood that also transforms into a royal residence, a ship, a secret hiding place, and several other uses.
Even with all of the other aforementioned “adaptations,” this serious play adds a continuous supply of dry humor when necessary. In a play that contains deceit, death, and betrayal, the actors and audience seem to enjoy the witty one-liners riddled throughout. Even the ever-brooding Athos (Andrew Richardson) has his moments of providing the audience with an occasional heartfelt and humorous one-liner.
Rounding out the cast are Daryl Paris Bright (Queen Anne), Henry Ayers-Brown (King Louis), Isabel Pask (Constance), Joe Essig (Buckingham), and Spencer Pollard (Richelieu). All play multiple roles as guards, thugs, thieves, innkeepers, and assassins. Again, this cast trades roles so seamlessly and that the audience has no time to notice who is playing each role. Even if the audience is paying attention to the “other minor roles” each actor plays, it would be difficult to notice these transformations.
Finally, but not less important, a special hats off has to go to fight director Michael Rossmy whose time spent on the plethora of swashbuckling, sword fighting scenes riddled throughout the play, again, is well worth the cost of admission. The sword play is convincingly realistic. Sitting in the front row, I had to, on several occasions, be prepared to jump out of the way with no less than 10 characters engaged in a full out brawl, swords, and candelabras flying through the air. Additionally, designer Marla Parker’s costumes are beautifully specific to the time era.
Once again, CMU’s School of Drama defines why it has garnered so many successes. The direction and design (on all fronts) and the smooth acting ability of the student/actors in The Three Musketeers will hold up as one of their more engaging and entertaining offerings.