Outdoors in The Elizabethan Theater, Alexander Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" is a swashbuckling adventure of friendship, honor, and love; deception and intrigue, and a whole lot of fun. This is a lavish production with period costumes and the opulence of the French Court of Louis XIII. We open with the musketeers in a mock duel. Porthos is showing off his "magnificent new attire." David Kelly seems part peacock, part buffoon as the jovial strutting Porthos. He mocks, then challenges D'Artagnan who is dressed in rags. He's a country boy who smells of goats, but wants to be a musketeer. He's successively challenged by Athos and Aramis. He stumbles and bumbles but succeeds in winning the friendship and loyalty of the Commander De Treville, then the Three Musketeers. as he joins them in their outnumbered fight against the Cardinal's Guards. This friendship is sealed when Athos gives him his sword after D'Artagnan's is confiscated by Rochefort.
The Court of Louis XIII is all frills and lace as he and Queen Anne play cards. Cardinal Richelieu complains that the Musketeers brutalized his Guards. The Queen's comments set the plot for the Cardinal and the King. James Edmundson's Cardinal tries to manipulate the King entirely to his own ends, but he also knows exactly how far he can push, and when he needs to back off and accept defeat. He has his network of servants and spies to help him achieve his ends. Next he sets his sights on getting rid of the Queen. After her servant tells him that the Queen has given the Duke of Buckingham, her lover, a necklace with twelve diamond studs that the King gave her, he plots her destruction with Milady.
D'Artagnan takes up the task of preserving the Queen's honor, and when he presents the letter of her predicament to Buckingham, thunder and lightning fill the sky, in a bit of celestial drama only achieved outdoors in The Elizabethan Theater. The Cardinal is foiled as the King counts the twelve studs in a completely ridiculous dance scene at the ball. The queen finds complete loyalty in Constance and The Musketeers, but the Cardinal is relentless in his intrigue against her. He sets Milady on D'Artagnan with disastrous results. One of the most touching scenes is when he goes to Milady as Count de Wardes. Her maid, Kitty, who is infatuated with him holds his hat to her in a loving gesture. D'Artagnan is above her now, and she has no hope. Linda Alpers' Milady is cold, calculating, and above all, a survivor, as she uses her wiles to achieve her ends time and time again. She is able to seduce even the Puritan, John Felton, but when the tables are turned she's furious and manages to extract her revenge in full.
"The Three Musketeers" is full of action with great fight scenes. At Calais, they use both levels of the theater, the stairs, and we even have a musketeer fly across the stage on a rope, grab on to a pillar, and slide down to the floor. When D'Artagnon kills Count de Wardes, he reflects on "...the strange destiny which leads men to destroy each other for the interests of those they scarcely know, and who are often not even aware of their existence." In the final battle, when the French drive out the English the Musketeers receive their commands on the balcony while the action builds on the stage below. They finally fire as the battle rages.
There's plenty of laughter and fun, drunken revelry, mocking, and jeers mixed with bitter rivalries. We have true love, honor, and deceit set against thoughtful introspection in this wildly entertaining production of Alexander Dumas' "The Three Musketeers" outdoors on The Elizabethan stage at The Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Ashland continuing through Oct. 9.