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Ms. Narbonne (Constance) in the clutches of Mark Couchot (Rochefort).
Photo by William Marsh

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NY Times Review of 3 Musketeers: En Garde! Dueling, Drinking and Laughing

By ANITA GATES
For The New York Times

LOUIS XIII IS NOT as famous as his son Louis XIV (the Sun King) or his descendant Louis XVI (guillotine, Marie Antoinette), but he was quite a character in his day (1601-43). And Michael Borrelli makes him the comic star of the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s fun-filled production of “The Three Musketeers” at Boscobel House and Gardens.
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Some may consider Mr. Borrelli’s performance over the top. His Louis has the speaking voice of Michael Jackson and the demeanor of Pee-wee Herman. That Louis was rumored to be bisexual and had a speech impediment does not mean that he lisped, minced and strutted. But Mr. Borrelli takes such joy in this characterization and invests it with such absolute-monarch confidence that there is nothing remotely offensive about it.

The real hero of “The Three Musketeers,” an adaptation of the novel Alexandre Dumas wrote in the 1840s and set in Paris around 200 years before, is d’Artagnan (Taylor Walsh), a young man from rural Gascony. He moves to the city with dreams of joining the prestigious Musketeers to protect the monarchy. By the end of his first day in town, d’Artagnan, a brave little geek, has scheduled three duels (at 10 p.m., 11 p.m. and midnight) and a romantic assignation (at 1 a.m.).

Fortunately, the duels are with the title characters — Porthos (Charlie Francis Murphy), Aramis (Kyle Nunn) and Athos (Daniel Morgan Shelley) — who are soon set upon by the men of the scheming Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Paul Johnson), led by Rochefort (Mark Couchot). D’Artagnan helps them out, impressing them with his skills, and they end up drinking and bonding with d’Artagnan rather than killing him. And that assignation, with the queen’s lady-in-waiting Constance (Lily Narbonne), leads to true love.

The play is studded with lines like “They’re so polite; it’s amazing they have any children at all” — an observation about the English; and “So Christians are killing each other over how much Latin they can use in church?” — a rhetorical question on the conflict between the Roman Catholic Church and the Protestant Huguenots. They are the gems of Ken Ludwig, who is best known for his Broadway comedy “Lend Me a Tenor” and respects his source material but gets a huge kick out of the contemporary and the irreverent.

He has come to the right place. Not everyone appreciates the Hudson Valley company’s goofy performance style, though. At intermission, an older woman leaned over me to announce firmly to her companion, who was seated separately, “I want to go.” (The musketeers might have accused her of “country manners.”) The man seemed puzzled and asked why. He had obviously been enjoying himself. The woman rolled her eyes. “I’ve seen better high school productions,” she said.

That must have been quite a high school. Because if this company, now in its 27th season, looks a bit ragged at times, it is both intentional and deceptive. Under the apt direction of Christopher V. Edwards, these actors know exactly what they are doing with every “O.M.G.” or childish spit on the ground. And they are pros.

Thank goodness that woman didn’t stick around for Act II and the innkeeper’s death scene. Poisoned, Ryan Quinn (who plays five other supporting roles distinctively) takes over the open-air stage with bravado, pretends to throw up in the laps of audience members (including two little girls, who seemed quite amused) and quotes from “The Wizard of Oz” and “Citizen Kane” before the innkeeper finally expires.

Sabine (Angela Janas), d’Artagnan’s younger sister and traveling companion, is an invention of Mr. Ludwig’s, but she is adventure-hungry and adept with a sword herself. There were a number of children in the audience last weekend, and it’s nice that the girls had a role model other than the nefarious Milady (Eleanor Handley), who does Richelieu’s dirty work.

Milady is the fashion plate of the group. Charlotte Palmer-Lane’s chic ensembles for her mix sinful red and bad-guy black. It is disconcerting, though, when Sabine and Milady strip down to cross swords (with Brad Lemons’s impressive fight direction). They look like waitresses at a theme park.

The setting, a tent on Boscobel’s grand lawn overlooking a wildly picturesque section of the Hudson River, never gets old. At two and a half hours, “The Three Musketeers,” which is playing in repertory this summer with “King Lear” and “All’s Well That Ends Well,” feels a bit long. But I wouldn’t have missed the big musical number at the beginning of Act II, “You Don’t Have to Be Rich to Be My Girl,” for a string of Queen Anne’s diamonds.

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