If all artists are thieves, Theatre de la Jeune Lune has taken the art of artistic pilferage one step further: Rather than present a straightforward adaptation of Alexandre Dumas’ popular 19th-century adventure novel “The Three Musketeers,” Jeune Lune has embraced Dumas’ legendary disregard for historical accuracy to create a brave, swashbuckling celebration of the artistic impulse.
To drive the point home, Jeune Lune plays much faster and looser with Dumas than Dumas ever did with the history of King Louis XIII. But the result of the company’s high-spirited tampering is an ingenious reinvention of the Three Musketeers myth that honors and glorifies the unabashedly romantic spirit of the novel, even while it plays with the book like a puppy with a new toy.
In Jeune Lune’s version, the Three Musketeers are well past their prime and living together in a run-down tenement in Paris. The adventurous days of yore are long gone — the great swordsmen have been reduced to dueling with their silverware.
When a naive young buck named d’Artagnan (played by Luverne Seifert) arrives at their doorstep full of ambition, it seems at first that the young man is going to be severely disappointed. D’Artagnan wants to fight, to love, to become intoxicated by the heady experience of pure adventure. But first, ho hum, the Three Musketeers want him to write a letter to his dad.
D’Artagnan’s initial effort — a paltry “Dear Father, I have arrived in Paris” — is ridiculed by the Musketeers, who value a good story above all else. In minutes, they have puffed up the boy’s letter with fictional exploits and derring-do. The place to look for pure adventure is not Paris, the Three Musketeers teach — it’s your imagination. Soon, d’Artagnan’s imagination takes flight, and both he and the play are off and running at full gallop.
Over the next two hours, the Three Musketeers (Joel Spence, Steven Epp and Vincent Gracieux) act as an irreverent chorus, chiding and baiting d’Artagnan and spurring him on to ever-greater acts of foolishness in the name of bravery. Epp is particularly good as the philosopher Aramis, who rhapsodizes about events so unlikely and hilarious that he comes to embody the playfully absurd spirit of the story.
The Musketeers themselves are largely background figures in this sprawling drama of royal intrigue, which embroils the sexually curious Queen of France (Karin Rosen) in an illicit affair with England’s Duke of Buckingham (Michael Lenz). In an inspired, high-voltage performance as d’Artagnan, Seifert glows with adolescent naivete and brashness, hardly noticing that practically everyone he meets is out to manipulate or kill him.
As entertaining as d’Artagnan’s adventures are, however, what makes Jeune Lune’s “The Three Musketeers” special are the numerous instances of pure theatrical epiphany, when plot details, boundless imagination and Jeune Lune’s ingenious execution crystallize in transcendent perfection. One such moment is the wild gallop from Paris to the English Channel in which everyone onstage is riding a leaping, snorting, wholly imaginary horse across the French countryside.
Embellishment, exaggeration, fabrication, distortion, and even an outright lie or two — these are the tools of the trade for those who aspire to create great art. Call it thievery if you want, but because history lives through stories, the important thing is to tell a memorable tale, and that Jeune Lune has done with magnificent style.