The Three Musketeers

Those unlucky enough to have witnessed the recent film “The Musketeer” will be relieved that Charles Morey’s 1989 theatrical version of “The Three Musketeers,” now at Pioneer Theatre Company, does not suffer from the same faults.

The movie was absurd but took itself too seriously; the play is extremely light-hearted and even slapsticky. The movie had virtually no good acting or characterization; the play is vivid and entertaining and performed with great skill.

The movie was rushed; the play is, well, too long.

That may be its most damaging attribute, and, depending on your patience, may outweigh some of its considerable charms. The play even acknowledges its own length with a joke near the end of it, but it’s little comfort to those who have been viewing for nearly three hours, often unsure where it’s all headed.

Still, Alexander Dumas’ classic adventure story is pretty impressive to look at, with two concentric turntables, lavish costumes and amazing fight choreography.

The concept is that Dumas (Anderson Matthews), harassed by an unsympathetic newspaper editor (pardon the redundancy), must write “The Three Musketeers” in serial form in a short space of time. The story unfolds as he tells it, and he frequently interacts with the characters — bickering with them, rewriting their deaths and trying to force them to do what he wants. It is a marvelously insightful examination of writer’s block and the way many authors feel their creations have lives beyond the creator’s control.

Fresh-faced D’Artagnan (Robert L. Devaney) is a pleasant lead character. The play ultimately is “about” his desire to become a full-fledged musketeer, though that goal falls far into the background for most of the show, causing the whole thing to feel a little unfocused.

He is joined by the religious Aramis (Mark Silence), clothes-horse Porthos (Mark Mineart), and soulfully bitter Athos (R. Ward Duffy). Each of these characters is distinct and delightful — an achievement indeed when so many characters and plot turns inhabit the play.

The person who emerges to be the chief villain is Milady de Winter, a conniving Englishwoman played with all-out sultry dastardliness by Christa Reed-Scott. When she is finally given the stage time she deserves, she quickly becomes the stand-out performer of the show.

It is all played with great humor — occasionally too low-brow — and a sense of adventure recalling the great swashbuckler movies of the olden days. It could be trimmed, focused and fine-tuned, but for heaven’s sake, don’t touch any of that wonderful swordfighting.

The man next to me was one of those guys who has to say out loud every thought he has. So he was constantly saying to his wife things like, "Nice costumes," or "That's funny." The best one was when the Alexander Dumas character fell asleep at his writing desk, and the man next to me said, "He's tired." Quite a bit of deduction there, I'd say.

So at intermission, I moved to another seat. I went to the very back of the theater, where attendance was sparse. It was great. I stretched out a bit with my arms on the seats next to me, like Robert De Niro at the movie theater in "Cape Fear."