What an adventure is on at The Alley, where you can now move from the page to the stage with a winning adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’s beloved novel The Three Musketeers. Ken Ludwig’s adaptation begins with a young D’Artagnan (Stanley Andrew Jackson III) leaving the country for the big city of Paris, and the hope of becoming a Musketeer. But he isn’t going alone; in a feminist twist, his sister Sabine (Victoria Valentine) leaves with him, dressed as a male servant. This isn’t just a play that is trying to recount the moments of the novel, but a swashbuckling ride through intrigue, political rivalries, and romance—but in a way that isn’t afraid to wink at the audience and make a little fun of the adventure genre itself. What can I say? It’s a lot of fun.
I loved the scenic design (Hugh Landwehr), a two-storied, chandeliered, trompe-l’oeil confection. How French is that? But the best part is how scene, sound (John Gromada), and lighting (Paul Whitaker) all coalesced. These technical artists took “all for one and one for all” to heart—and it worked well. Everyone around me was enjoying themselves, including my soon-to-be-at-college son, and that is really saying something. I hate feeling like I am at a children’s play—and I didn’t feel that way once. It’s an entertaining romp, but never Romper Room.
Mark Shanahan’s direction requires a lot of plates spinning in the air, and none of them come crashing down. But you have the excitement and anticipation of exhilaration knowing that so much is going on, something could go wrong at any time. The only mishap in all the happenings was a moment when David Rainey, playing the Duke of Buckingham, loses his mustache. But he just threw it on his fancy bed and continued with aplomb—it was great. And funny.
Have I failed to mention the costumes? Alejo Vietti has some of the best design I have seen in a play, from the fancy gowns of Queen Anne to the blood-red decadence of Cardinal Richelieu’s flowing robes. Then there are the Musketeers, with their leather jackets and vests and beautiful boots. But the best are the costumes for King Louis XIII, played by one of my favorite actors in Houston, the superlative Dylan Godwin. From his flowing curled locks to his effete mustache to his gilded boots, every sash, cape, garter, and golden element of his mask for a ball, is spot on. I mean, how many plays do you attend where you can’t wait for the next costume change? Even the nuns had awesome habits.
But of course, the soul of this play is action—and there is a lot of it. Thanks to the wonderful fight direction of H. Russ Brown, whether the clash is humorous or high stakes, these swordfights are a delight. Sometimes the moves were almost balletic. Others were so aggressive you were on the edge of your seat. But this is certain: These actors have a lot of sprezzatura, and they made intricate scenes and moves look easy—even though they are not.
You can’t help but cheer for the religious yet lustful Aramis (David Matranga), the brooding and Byronic Athos (Jay Sullivan), and the charming and witty Porthos (Seth Andrew Bridges). It would be easy to make these characters cartoonish, or make them interchangeable, but these actors are so good, that never happens. Their sword fighting is superlative, but so is their formidable physical comedy, and the ability to be an ensemble-within-an-ensemble cast. I really wanted a sequel to their adventures after everyone took their bows.
Another marvel of this play is how several of the actors are chameleons, often taking on three or more roles during the performance. Shawn Hamilton moves from being D’Artagnan’s encouraging father (he tells his son, “Never back down, unless you are wrong”) to being one of the Cardinal’s henchmen—and his delivery of bad news to the Cardinal is hilarious. Melissa Pritchett plays no less than six roles—one minute she is the Queen of France, the next she is a tavern girl. Same with David Rainey, who plays multiple roles. It is a kaleidoscope of roles that is riveting to watch.
While the Musketeers defend the King, Cardinal Richelieu is always plotting, sending his minions and spies to challenge the power of the crown. And Todd Waite is a wonderful Richelieu, with those demonic-looking religious robes, and his putdowns and his conniving, knowing looks. His sidekick spy, (Milady, played by the excellent Julia Krohn) is intense, saying “Knowledge is power, and power is life!” What a delicious bad girl role—and an entertaining contrast to the innocent Constance (McKenna Marmolejo), who is in love with D’Artagnan.
I can’t help it—I’m a fan, and for me, Dylan Godwin as the King of France is a performance I could watch again and again. From his nervous tittering laugh to his pouting about the Cardinal, he captures so many eccentricities and quirks that it is something to behold. Blending graceful moves with remarkable comedic timing, Godwin doesn’t let the luscious costumes upstage his performance—they all go together. Most of all, this is a wonderful cast, and this is entertainment that only can happen on a stage, no matter how much you like the novel.
Thru June 30. Tickets from $28. 615 Texas Ave. 713-220-5700. More info and tickets at alleytheatre.org.