Photo by Roger Mastroianni
First, let's get one thing straight: Contrary to what a casual reader might infer, "The Three Musketeers," now at the Cleveland Play House, is not a work about a trio of billionaires who invest in anything Elon Musk cooks up in his fevered brain. No, this is an adaptation of the classic Alexandre Dumas novel about three swashbucklers who wield their ever-present swords to fight for justice in 17th century France.
CPH has mounted a lavish production, featuring delicious, BDSM fantasy costumes by Lex Liang. And there is action aplenty, including a gaggle of swordfights involving anywhere from two participants to, it seems, the entire cast. Those feature the 3M's along with an assortment of police, military, and other guys who are ready to swing steel at the slightest provocation. Good thing they didn't have AR-15s back then or this would be a much shorter show.
At any rate, our hero D'Artagnan (Hassiem Muhammad) is a country bumpkin who wants to join the Musketeers of the Guard, but he's informed it ain't all that easy. He is given a near-impossible task to prove his worth, but he is soon buttressed by the famed triad of Athos, Porthos and Aramis. You can tell this production has its 21st Century gender politics in the right place since this combo is made up of three actors—one male, one female, and one trans complete with "they/them" pronouns. That casting diversity is a refreshing change from the usual complement of three dudes who have played these roles for eons on stage and in film.
Of course, the engine of any play like this is the villain, and they have two respectable baddies. Cardinal Richelieu (Leraldo Anzaldua), is a preening authoritarian who'd fit nicely in today's Republican party and stone cold Milady De Winter, played to a fare-thee-well by Nehassaiu deGannes. But that's just one element of a production so jammed with discrete events it's a virtual Plot-A-Palooza. There are poison potions, romances, stolen diamonds, swordfights (did I mention swordfights?), evil henchman with eyepatch, secret tattoos, secret wife, secret servant-turned-superhero, lots of furniture moving, and ultimately a few dead bodies for good measure.
At times, it feels as if the whole enterprise will devolve into a bloody soap opera or a Rocky Horror send-up. But it never spins off in any of those directions, and that may not be a good thing. The adaptation by Catherine Bush is workmanlike for the most part, leaning on easy jokes and slapstick instead of creating something fresh and witty.
But you may not notice since the production has so much going on thanks to Laura Kepley's clever direction backed by the talents of scenic designer Paige Hathaway, lighting designer Alberto Segarra, and sound designer Curtis Craig.
It all ends, predictably enough, with the time-honored catch phrase of The Three Musketeers, "All for one and one for all." And while this production will not linger long in your memory, it tries so hard to please you may not be able to resist it.
The Three Musketeers
Through May 22 at the Cleveland Play House, Playhouse Square, Allen Theatre, 1407 Euclid Ave., clevelandplayhouse.com, 216-241-6000.