En Garde, Laugh Hard with The Three Musketeers

May 25, 2017 by JULIE GARISTO | PERFORMING ARTS, THINGS TO DO
From left. Aramis (Paul McColgan), Porthos (Jack Holloway) and Athos (Stephen Fisher) mix heroism with mischief in Hat Trick Theatre's The Three Musketeers. Photo by Bianca Badia.
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Hat Trick Theatre stages a riotous, exhilarating locally scripted twist on a classic tale. Photos by Bianca Badia.

Shake off the breaking news and record-breaking-heat blues with The Three Musketeers. 

Hat Trick Theatre‘s latest romp continues its run at Ruth Eckerd Hall’s Murray Theatre tonight through Sunday, May 28, with a bevy of bon mots, witty irreverence, dizzying costume changes and exciting swordplay.

Like the Dumas novel, the story follows young farmhand/musketeer hopeful D’Artagnan (Ryan Bernier) as he embarks on a quest to join the ranks of the Musketeers alongside Athos (Stephen Fisher), Porthos (Jack Holloway) and Aramis (Paul McColgan).

From there, local playwright (and photographer) Bianca Badia and the play’s director (also Hat Trick’s first Artistic Director) Joe Winskye retool the French quasi-historic tale into a winning mix of contemporary slapstick and ye olde-fashioned street theater.

According to the playwrights, they took inspiration from the original text while watching and reading any adaptations they could get their hands on, as well as any other classic swashbuckling tale.

Milady (Molly Schoolmeester) and Athos (Stephen Fisher) deal with unfinished business.

“Above all else, we really enjoyed how aware of itself the book was,” Badia shared in an e-mail chat after the show. “Dumas frequently has the book’s narrator reference the story that’s being told as a story. It’s something that movie or stage adaptations had yet to really use, hence our moments of meta-theatrical comedy, etc.”

Badia added that she and Winskye had to take considerable liberties from the book to condense almost 600 pages of prose down to two hours of performance.

“The biggest liberty we took is one that most people have taken: we made the musketeers and D’Artagnan more likable,” added Winskye. “In the book, they are terrible cads, and by today’s sensibilities it would be difficult to root for them!”

Then there was the challenge of staging the new adaptation. Beaucoup kudos go to the multi-talented ensemble players and behind-the-scenes production personnel who brainstormed vintage sight gags (don’t forget to read each of the slightly changing titles on the inn sign) and alternative modes of presentation.

Hint: One narrative piece can be found in a laundry basket.

Speaking of visuals, scenic Designer Meg Hanna Tominago and Winskye brainstormed clever lighted scrim silhouettes with character action and hilariously rickety animations that feature horses galloping and other action. They, with the help of lighting designer Mike Shine and sound man Joel Haker, add distinctive polish to an otherwise low-frills show.

McColgan credited Hat Trick’s knack for collaboration.

The Duke of Buckingham (Paul McColgan) high-fives D’Artagnan (Ryan Bernier) as Constance (Molly Schoolmeester) reacts in disbelief. 

“It really was quite a collaborative process between everyone,” said cast member and Hat Trick Production Manager Paul McColgan after the show. “In every rehearsal, our director, Joe (Winskye), would have a portion where we could workshop things and present ideas. He would then make the final decision on where the bit would go.”

Offstage the Musketeers are members of Marcia P. Hoffman School of the Arts at Ruth Eckerd Hall’s staff: Fisher, an instruction and production associate; Jack Holloway, Drama Department Chair; and Paul McColgan, Director of Education.

Holloway fetches big laughs as manchild King Louis as well as Porthos, and McColgan pulls off a British accent and majestic fake stache as Duke of Buckingham. Costumes are on point thanks to Darlene Ownes Widner, Melissa Nolan and Gi Sung.

The entire cast skillfully plays multiple roles, aided by Winskye’s expert direction. Matt Frankel portrays various drunks and Rochefort; David Barrow gives us a buxom barkeep, who dons a deliberately inauthentic, red-curly wig and absurdly fake breasts, along with archvillain Richelieu; and Molly Schoolmeester portrays Queen Anne, Milady, the evil courtesan, and royal handmaiden Constance with distinctive nuances.

Musketeer Athos (Fisher) takes on Cardinal Richelieu’s henchmen — one of the skillful swordplay scenes in the show.

Too bad there isn’t more dastardly brilliance from Barrow as the sinister Richelieu. He’s a bit underplayed in the show, but that’s just one minor misgiving in all-around solid production.

Bernier, as D’Artagnan performs with both deadpan brilliance and aw-shucks likability, recalling the early comedic roles of Chevy Chase. He has remarkable physical and mental stamina onstage as he hold his own fighting alongside the Musketeers and delivering a bonus scene on foot.

The swordplay choreography is fantastic, and though I perceived no threat of anything going afoul, Hat Trick employs a medic at every show just to put the audience at ease.

“Joe Winskye was the Fight Choreographer,” McColgan said. “He was the one who chose where all the fights would go, what the story of each one was, and did the bulk of the choreography. …  (I) and most of the cast do have quite a bit of training and, like with the comedy bits, we had moments where we could collaborate and offer ideas.  A few times Joe gave us the start and end point of a fight, and let us go off and work ourselves on how we would get from one to the other.  We started workshops back in January of this year, meeting once a week to get in physical shape for this show.  It was quite a journey.”

 

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