Theatre The Three Musketeers at the Loeb

THE ACTORS have come hither, dear reader, and-as Polonius would have it-they're set on being the best actors in the world. Either for tragedy, comedy, historical, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral. And all within the scope of one play, mind you. The play in question being Peter Raby's adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' The Three Musketeers. And given that Raby renders the venerable old Dumas novel in a succession of Forty, Count em, Forty, Swiftly Moving and Breathtakingly Dramatic Scenes-See D'Artagnan outwit the Cardinal's guards! See Milady de Winter steal the Queen's jewels from the Duke of Buckingham! See Con-stance, wife of Bonacieux, drink the fatal glass of wine!-George Hamlin's current Loeb production works up virtually every type of scene Polonius could ever want to see. It's a Baskin-Robbins approach to theatre and it includes nigh unto every flavor known to man.

If you were to retile the thing Sword's Play, however, you could just about sum up the evening's essential appeal. Sooner or later some learned anthropologist is bound to discover that sword play-whether it be little kids thrashing it out with crossed sticks or European masters fencing for a winning point-is a primitive kind of drama. What with its ritual, conflict, spectacle, and resolution, how could it be anything else? The Three Musketeers is full of such clashes of steel, and William Taylor appears to have done a fine job in teaching a couple of dozen of the actors how to handle their swords.

Much as your average musical's book is just an excuse for letting go with lots of song and dance, Dumas' bizarrely complicated plot is just an excuse for action and dueling and general running about. Although the king himself, at the urging of the insidious Richelieu, has outlawed the duel, his gallant musketeers still try to work through worn-out codes of loyalty and honor, something that the Cardinal's guards don't share. As a result, every duel devolves into chaos and confusion. And also a good deal of fun. Hamlin's actors seem to have jumped into the project with as much enthusiasm as Tom Sawyer's gang out on a midnight patrol-Tom, you'll remember, was himself something of a Dumas freak-and though it's all still as ridiculous and decadent as even Mark Twain could see, it's also still somehow innocent enough to set off a goodly amount of villain-hissing and hero-hurrahs in the correspondingly enthusiastic audience.

BUT DON'T think such juvenile delights are all this play has to offer; it's also got its outright adolescent side. Hamlin directs the love affair between the French Queen Anne (Innes-Fergus McDade) and the British Duke of Buckingham (Robert McCleary)-"one of those streaks of fate that change the course of history" we are told-with a delicate seriousness that makes it all the more wonderfully ludicrous. Anne protests that she can't possibly love the Duke because they have "only had 3 meetings in the last 4 years," but minutes later ends up forking over to him jewels given to her "by the king in behalf of the people of France" as a token of her love.

Meanwhile, one of her ladies-in-waiting has written to D'Artagnan, "I have been abducted again," and, with that, the plot's whole creaky machinery is set in motion. Timothy Carden is D'Artagnan, the would-be fourth musketeer; to him falls the task of combining many of the disparate elements of the play. As the busiest actor on stage, Carden is called upon to handle battles, brawls, and bedroom scenes and does so winningly with his usual blend of physical energy and ingenuous geniality. He provides the driving force that sets the other three musketeers-Michael Smith as the clothes-conscious Porthos, George Sheanshang as Arannis the aesthete, and Casey Clark as brooding Athos-into action.

The problem of course with such a play is that once you assign each character a telling adjective there isn't much more to say of them. No one is about to accuse Dumas the Father of too much character development. As compensation, Joan Minto has provided costumes that would do the Laguna Beach "Festival of the Masters" proud. Warren Motley's Cardinal Richelieu, silently suffering from constant migraine as he tries to hold together both himself and the entire French state, could easily have stepped out of a painting by Goya, and Charles Smith, with just the slightest trace of foppishness under his dirty black hair, looks like Gainsborough's "Blue Boy" gone syphilitic.

OF COURSE, such a pastiche of styles isn't always beneficial to the unity of the whole. Richelieu's conspiracies almost seem lifted from another, more serious play, for it's hard to fear him as the villain he is when those characters he threatens are viewed with a good deal more irony and humor. Similarly, Hamlin has difficulties combining individual scenes into a fluid progression. Often he wastes time opening scenes with touches of realistic detail that can only serve to remind us of the artificiality of the entire venture. Only at the beginning of the second act does a quick sequence of vignettes suggest the texture of a complex, "historical" moment wherein a half-dozen events are existing almost simultaneously. The rest of the time we're all too aware of watching the lineal working out of a Plot.

Ostensibly Dumas is out to prove, particularly through the doomed Athos, that we must love with more head and less heart, but the melo-romantic-dramatic plot will have none of it. And while much of the musketeers' raison d' etre pretends to be the protection of female honor, the play actually shunts its women aside in favor of its male camaraderie. In fact, much of the second half of The Three Musketeers directs its anger not at the scheming Richelieu or the irresponsible Louis or the decaying monarchy that protects the two, but at Richelieu's agent Milady de Winter. With a curiously pathological doggedness, the play heaps all the injustices in its world at the doorstep of the woman. Unfortunately, Lori Heineman isn't quite capable of infusing the role with the stature and presence it demands. She is simply not convincing as a foil for D'Artagnan and the rest of the boys in his band, and so ends the play more a pathetic scapegoat than tragic villainess.

Still, when she pleads at play's end, "I'm too young to die," she's certainly got the best line. The wonder is that The Three Musketeers can get away with such foolishness. It's all so blatantly foolish that the usual objections one feels compelled to raise when faced with such trifling Leeb confections-that so much effort should be directed toward so trivial an end-become a kind of joke. So then. One for all and all for one? Right on.