The tone is set immediately at “The Three Musketeers” — now in repertory at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison — with an acrobatic swordfight between d’Artagnan and his father.
They flip and roll and spin and lunge, steel flying, and it takes a while before we’re sure this isn’t a case of family dysfunction gone horribly wrong.
It isn’t, but it’s clear we’re in for a wild ride.
By a wholly unscientific, possibly low-ball tally, there are 32 battles or acts of violence (slaps, punches, kicks, etc.) in this muscular, comic “Three Musketeers,” played fast and loose with plenty of laughs and pratfalls.
Director Chris Edwards, whose “Romeo and Juliet” last season was intimate and affecting, employs a sweeping Hollywood soundtrack to heighten the cinematic feel of some of the larger battles here in an entertaining confection, a French bonbon perfect for a summer night. “The Three Musketeers” is ideal for kids, but not for purists.
Ken Ludwig, who wrote the popular farce “Lend Me a Tenor,” writes contemporary dialogue that can be jarring at times, particularly in a story set in 1625 France. Ludwig introduces a new character, d’Artagnan’s kid sister, Sabine — played with energy to burn by Angela Janas — who calls her brother “d’Arty” for short.
“Being a girl in the 17th century just isn’t fun,” Sabine declares.
D’Artagnan’s father (Ryan Quinn, in one of a handful of wll-turned characters) sends his son (the wiry and effective Taylor Walsh) into the world with that final workout, an old horse and lots of advice: Stay focused, keep a kind heart, defend the king, protect the queen and don’t openly defy the evil Cardinal Richelieu. And above all, honor; although dad isn’t entirely clear what that means. Oh, and since you’re going to Paris, drop your kid sister off at her convent school.
Once in Paris, d’Artagnan manages to meet and insult each of the musketeers, who challenge him to duels every hour on the hour. Facing certain death at the hands of any one of his three heroes, d’Artagnan gets thoughtful: Some things, he says, are work dying for in an instant, but is this what honor is?
Before long, though, he has won over the swordsmen: The pious Aramis (Kyle Nunn) has an eye for the ladies; the dandy Porthos (Charlie Francis Murphy) isn’t up on his politics; and the wounded Athos, (played by understudy Jeff Gonzalez on opening night, standing in for the injured Daniel Morgan Shelley) is a fiery fighter with a tortured past.
Every hero needs a nemesis and the musketeers have two: Stephen Paul Johnson as a snarling Richelieu; and Eleanor Handley as the devious Countess de Winter, known as Milady. Richelieu is the kind of guy who would poke at his soldier’s wound just to inflict more pain; the first time we see Milady, she knocks out d’Artagnan with a single punch to the face.
The language is so contemporary, one half expects the cunning cardinal to declare: “And I might have gotten away with it if it hadn’t been for you meddling musketeers.”
There is plenty of comedy.
Michael Borrelli plays a foppish, dim and petulant King Louis XIII of France, with an accent that turns “morning” into “meeyorning” and “outnumbered” into “outneeyumbered,” a laugh-out-loud choice that makes every line an occasion.
Quinn’s physical-comedy skills fully deliver a duplicitous innkeeper whose death by poisoning is a comic gift that keeps on giving.
“The Three Musketeers” plays with the form and embraces it: The cardinal’s bumbling henchman Rochefort delivers a monologue about how stupid it is when henchmen monologue, giving the good guys a chance to get the drop on him; one of d’Artagnan’s entrances is right out of the Errol Flynn handbook; and there is a quest — a necklace to retrieve to stave off war.
The point, however, is at the end of the swords, which get a workout.
This is an action adventure, including a whopper of a battle pitting three musketeers, one d’Artagnan and one kid sister against eight of the evil Cardinal Richelieu’s men.
In the world of musketeers, those odds are just about right.
“The Three Musketeers,” Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, at Boscobel Restoration, 1601 Route 9D, Garrison. In repertory with “All’s Well That Ends Well” and “King Lear” through Sept. 1. See schedule at www.hvshakespeare.org. $27 to $75. Package discounts available. 845-265-9575 or www.hvshakespeare.org
Photos by William Marsh: Top: Kyle Nunn, as Aramis, battles Cardinal Richelieu’s henchman, Rochefort, played by Mark Couchot, in a battle royal in “The Three Musketeers” at Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival. Second: Charlie Francis Murphy and Kyle Nunn as Porthos and Aramis. Third, Michael Borrelli as King Louis XIII, starts the show with a big entrance. Bottom photo: Taylor Walsh as d’Artagnan.