There may be three musketeers, but it only takes two, leaping simultaneously from a seven-foot platform, to shake every seat in Synetic Theatre. The former cinema trembles as they land, swords drawn, ready to brandish both rapiers and wits.
That Synetic, the physical theater troupe known for its wordless adaptations of Shakespeare, would turn Alexandre Dumas’ novel into a swashbuckling good time was never in doubt. But whether the resulting show would flow seamlessly, and whether the between-swordfight dialogue would be as clunky as a 17th century suit of armor? That was very much in question.
So it must be a relief, for longtime Synetic fans, that the very first verbal exchange—after a fantastic opening flash of boots and swords—is this:
Rochefort (the captain of the guard): Now stand down by order of the Cardinal!
Athos (leader of the musketeers): Eat shit! By the order of the king!
With those words, The Three Musketeers establishes that it will be something other than the usual Synetic show. There are, of course, the guaranteed-good dance sequences and stuntman-worthy fights. But The Three Musketeers is also a witty romcom, an edge-of-your-seat caper, and a virtuosic display of daring-do.
Several of Synetic’s past attempts at literary adaptations have been problematic. Recall the wooden dialogue of 2010’s Master and Margarita and the awkward segues of 2011’s episodic Don Quixote. But Ben Cunis—who also stars as Athos and choreographs Musketeers’ fights—and his brother Peter have managed to concoct not only a crackling script but a suspenseful narrative with distinct character arcs. Add spot-on casting, and we have ourselves a show.
Cunis, a longtime company member, portrays the jaded leader of the musketeers with drunken swagger, while Matthew Ward is the pious Aramis, whose womanizing thwarts his attempt to take holy orders. Hector Reynosa relishes the role of Porthos, the pudgy guardsman who doesn’t so much speak as he “ruh-rohs” like Scooby Doo. Into this threesome leaps Dallas Tolentino as D’Artagnan, a sword-bearing hayseed who dreams of defending the king. He arrives in Paris and promptly challenges Aramis, Porthos, and Athos to duels. They converge at the Field of Honour, but D’Artagnan gets a reprieve, of sorts, when the Cardinal’s guard shows up and threatens to arrest all four men for dueling within city limits.
The musketeers respond by taking on the guard rather than D’Artagnan, and the ensuing scene makes the fighters at Shakespeare Theatre (and there are plenty of them right now, in Wallenstein and Coriolanus) look like they bought a Groupon for fencing lessons. At Synetic, heels fly within centimeters of faces, blades clash, and bodies are carefully positioned so men can leap off each other’s backs.
If a fantastic Synetic swordfight is de rigeur, director Paata Tsikurishvilli has a few new tricks up his puffed sleeves. For the foppish French King Louis XIII and the philandering British minister Lord Buckingham, he’s hired a pair of classically trained actors; Robert Bowen Smith is particularly disarming as the monarch more interested in balls (royal, tennis, and otherwise) than foreign affairs. The director has also experimented with stop-motion tableaux, a tactic brilliantly deployed in a ballroom scene in which the caped crusaders toss around a much-sought-after diamond brooch.
The usual Synetic collaborators have also gone all-out in this all-for-one effort. In-house composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze reworked Baroque themes from Pachelbel, Bach, and Handel rather than creating his typical synthesized mash-up. Dan Istrate, last seen flitting around as Ariel in The Tempest, is diabolically robotic as Cardinal Richelieu. Choreographer Irina Tsikurishvili is never the best actor in the bunch, but as a slinky rogue assassin, she dances in both a heavenly dream sequence with Cunis and a devilish paso doble with Istrate. That a courtly ensemble dance concludes the show is no surprise, nor was the standing ovation on the opening Saturday. “I think this might be my new favorite one. Might be,” one theatergoer told Paata Tsikurishvili on the way out. She’s right. Among Synetic fans, let the duels commence.