By Christabelle… @CBellesCloset (*Pure Editorial, Non-Paid Post*)
There is something to be said about finding down time and remembering how to breathe. Taking a moment to turn off your cell phone and turn on a good classic instead. On this particular day, I sojourned to Garrison, NY – a surprisingly short and majestic train ride away from the city – to do just that. My final destination…The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival to enjoy a sold-out performance of The Three Musketeers.
In her 27th year, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival has continually produced top-notch performances – season after season. Hailed as an industry theater leader, she is known for her integrity as the region’s only professional resident Shakespeare Company. And with the grounds of the 19th century Boscobel estate hosting her summer address, there is no room for disappointment.
The trip up the Hudson yielded the most divine weather and with over an hour to spare before show time, I intended to soak up this grandiose vista – down to the last second. With iPhone shut down and Salinger in hand, I perched myself upon a bench with every intention to read; Boscobel had other plans for me. A sweeping glance of these glorious grounds, it was as if I had stepped into a mystical portal of space-time continuum. Kubrick-style garden labyrinths lead to a house best described as plucked directly from the plantation Tara. A lush, rich emerald landscape painted the horizon – so exquisite in its perfection, it appeared man-made on the lot of Universal Studios. And as visual stimulation went into over-drive, behind me stood the regal white arena – where HVSF magic is bestowed upon patrons night after night.
The sun began to set on the meringue whipped peaks of the structure… producing patches of haze which hung in the open-aired tent. Had I just stepped into my version of Brigadoon? If I dared enter, would we fade into the backdrop only to return in 100 years? I opted to let HVSF decide my fate and made my way to my front row seat – bracing myself for what I had heard was a show like no other.
It began shirtless and sweaty – with swords in hand. The play opens with a duel between the ever optimistic, chivalrous and generous D’Artagnan (Taylor Walsh) and his father (Ryan Quinn), which we soon discover is fight club training – 17th Century style. Sparking swords and witty rhetoric are quickly married in a surprising contemporary bend to the classic novel written by Alexandre Dumas. Unbeknownst to me at top of show, this rendition of The Three Musketeers is a modern interpretation written by Ken Ludwig (sprinkled with comedic confectioneries of the improvisational kind). I don’t recall King Louis XIII requesting an EpiPen®, as we poured over the pages of this novel in AP English. And I certainly do not recall a flash-mob-Prince-dance-a-thon taking place within the written words of 1625.
However, on this night, all of these modern threads, weaved themselves seamlessly within the original story written over a century ago; gifting the audience one of the most intoxicating depictions of this classic ever to hit the stage. Kudos to Director Christopher V. Edwards and Artistic Director Terrence O’Brien for bringing this cast of theatrical stars to new heights of excellence.
The cast, made up in good part of HVSF alumni, moves in tailored sync with one another. Fight scenes were impeccably and painstakingly directed by Brad Lemons. Performed in 500 square foot space, I was left in awe and amazement that there was no accidental decapitation of the lifestyle blogger sitting flush with the stage.
My apologies are graciously extended to Mr. Michael Borrelli (King Louis XIII), as my incessant chort-snort-weeping laughter had to have been a distraction (even to a veteran actor such as he). Costumed in a golden brocade knickers ensemble (with matching bonnet tied under chin and 6 inch platform shoes), his wardrobe seemed undeniably the center of attention as he sashayed on-stage. But his costume was upstaged and over thrown immediately by his impeccably delivered lines, wild gesticulations and even his occasional wedgie-removal-rump-shake. Rumored bi-sexual, born with an extreme congenital speech impediment and often depicted as bumbling and a bit briny – Michael Borrelli’s portrayal of King Louis XIII not only gives these points of conviction carte blanche, but induces side-splitting howls from the audience as he embraces and coddles them. This makes for a character you bond with and become quite fond of almost instantaneously, which in turn makes you loathe Cardinal Richelieu (Stephen Paul Johnson) and his sidekick Rochefort (Mark Couchot) more and more with each passing moment. You wait with bated breath to hear what falls in perfect time from Borrelli’s tongue and in some cases laugh in anticipation of what over-the-top antic he is about to present. A new threshold of comedy was born this summer within the very talented hands of Michael Borrelli. You had me at “J-Yoke”.
Having dabbled in acting from a very early age, I know how difficult it is to master one character in a production. Two is a challenge that takes super-hero focus. Six is just insanity and grounds for schizophrenia at this juncture of the show’s run. Ryan Quinn pulls it off like child’s play. Within one 2-hour performance, Mr. Quinn enchants audiences as D’Artagnan’ s father, Treville, Ravanche, DeBris, the Duke of Buckingham and crowd-pleaser the Innkeeper. With his over-the-top, slapstick, never-ending death scene which includes the Innkeeper (Quinn) vomiting on an audience member’s lap, busting out Thriller dance moves, and quoting The Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, Frankenstein and my favorite from Ghostbusters, “I am the key master” all before his final expiration from ingesting poisonous wine. Quinn earns the award for most versatile actor in one performance.
Chiara Motley’s Queen Anne was well played, dignified and stunning in appearance (costume designer Charlotte Palmer-Lane nailed her royal attire) but it was her portrayal of the French Abbess that had me sold. Drunken and perhaps a few sandwiches short of a picnic, Motley ingeniously constructed a lovable (albeit sloshed) servant of God; adding just the right amount of humor and humility to soften the ground for the premature death of Constance Bonacieux (Lily Narabonne).
Sabine (Ludwig’s character add-on, played by Angela Janas) was a breath of fresh air on the fight sodden stage. Her bright eyes, warm open smile and innocent demeanor were like fresh mint atop a theatrical Mojito. I was pleased in the end to see her defend not only the honor of those around her, but of her own. This was a lovely showcase of heroin-ism and the perfect idol for the young girls in the audience to cast their own dreams upon.
The Three Musketeers, Porthos (Charlie Francis Murphy), Aramis (Kyle Nunn) and Athos (Daniel Morgan Shelley) played the title characters flawlessly. Shelley’s dark and emotionally empty Athos, sets the tone for the unveiling of his wounded heart and gutted soul. Nunn keeps time and balance with the religious under-toned gigolo ways of Aramis. Murphy’s Porthos has stature and presence – the most outspoken of the trio; he delights audiences – most specifically the younger patrons – with his in-character crowd interactions.
And lastly…there was Handley.
If you follow my blog, you know that last year at this time, I had the honor of watching Ms. Eleanor Handley own the stage as Maggie, in Tennessee Williams Cat of a Hot Tin Roof (Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival, opposite Tom Degnan). I cringed in my seat as I watched her callously torture and berate her drunken husband, Brick. At the time, I thought Handley had mastered the art of deplorable behavior and insensitivity to human existence, as she defiantly tossed Brick’s crutch across the stage making him stumble after it on broken leg. I was wrong. I was so very wrong.
Maggie, I would like for you to meet Milady. Or perhaps not…she might slit your throat for looking so damn good in that slinky red dress.
As someone who runs in the same social circles as Eleanor Handley, I now know this Australian-born actress both on and off the stage. I hope what I am about to offer her, is taken as the largest compliment and testament to her craft. For a moment longer than I should – I questioned my personal relationship with her. For a moment longer than I should – I questioned the sincerity of her “off stage” kind disposition and in those moments wondered if I, like Constance, had been duped by Milady Handley .
Her wicked is that bel-evil-able. Handley’s portrayal of Milady’s ruthless, heartless and frigid demeanor would make even a Real Housewife of New Jersey shake in her Louboutins. I caught myself looking over my shoulder on more than one occasion, wondering if I, like so many unfortunate characters in the play, would reach early demise via her sharp tongue and switchblade hand. Handley writhes in and out of scenes in serpent-like manner – ready to cast her venomous fangs on anyone who gets in her way and a few who just happened upon her path like Mother Superior (India Gurley).
I cheered when Handley’s Milady died. And I don’t feel bad about it.
Garrison’s Boscobel Gardens houses the most exquisite group of talent representing Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival proudly. The performances that turn over from this company are as addictive as potato chips. You truly cannot stop at just one. Fortunately, the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s summer 2013 line-up is fat free and charged with such intense flavor and mouthwatering delights, you can continue to indulge as much as you want (or at least through September 1, 2013).
Don’t miss out on your HVSF experience – get your tickets now and enjoy all that the 2013 season has to offer.
Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival’s productions of The Three Musketeers, King Lear and All’s Well that Ends Well are playing in repertory at Boscobel Gardens in Garrison, NY through September 1, 2013. CLICK TO PURCHASE TICKETS.
Box Office: 845 – 265-9575
Photo credits: Will Marsh, Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival
The Three Musketeers by Ken Ludwig (adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas)
Directed by Christopher V. Edwards
Artistic Director – Terrence O’Brien
Executive Director – Maggie Whitlum
Fight Director – Brad Lemons
Costume Designer – Charlotte Palmer-Lane
Lighting Design – David Upton
Sound Design – William Neal
Props Design – Sue Rees
Choreography – Lisa Rinehart
Stage Manager – Corey Croughn