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Theater Review: Humor-clad ‘Three Musketeers’ all for jovial jabs at Pennsylvania Playhouse

Adult eyes tend to glaze over when confronted with an action-driven adventure that is juvenile, almost profoundly unsophisticated.

Overcast with bred cynicism as a result of merely growing up, it becomes almost too difficult to immerse oneself in a plot centered around imagination.

The Pennsylvania Playhouse’s production of “Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers,” which continues through April 21, self-aware of its jovial sensationalism, proves that there is still power in youthful eagerness if you just let that be felt.

The novel adapted for stage, particularly as a familiar tale, only works when the cast understands that the charm derives from the liveliness of wit. Reaching beyond the normal, that is.

In this two-act odyssey, aided by a 15-person collective reminiscent of an improv troupe, the Playhouse production’s Director Gary Boyer embraces the needed overtones and commands with a concentrated hilarity. Without it, the show may have reeked of an overlong “Saturday Night Live” skit that would have left the “all for one, and one for all” mantra unheard, and unimportant.

Reliant on physical comedy, or a more situational humor, “The Three Musketeers” really feels like it would work best as a Buster Keaton-esque project. The physicality of the actors, specifically found in Salem Perez Torres’s take on D’Artagnan, drives this idea of an animated reality; in other words, the show feels its most humorous when the actors themselves feel more otherworldly, overtly cartoonish. That is what made the silent film era distinguishable, and as evidenced, can do the same for the stage. For their first leading role, Salem Perez Torres represents the talent in the everyman performer: the appealing novice.

Drake Nester (Porthos), James Dennis (Cardinal Richelieu), Matthew Contakes (Father, King Louis XIII) and Caitie Pagnois (Sabine) adopt this same approach of external glee that adds a necessary precision to the production, a conscious jab. Narrated by an unserious lens, the show is simply a sword-yielding joke told for two hours.

Providing counterbalance to the laugh-out-loud sentiment are Ryan Patrick Allen (Athos), Stephen Simone (Aramis), Amy Cramer (Mother,Queen Anne), Jillian Hetsko Shea (Milady) and Kaelin Weston (Constance Bonacieux). Each actor, appropriately armored with a state-of-belonging, contributes to giving the uninspired script space.

Rather than leading with the toolbox of slapstick comedy, these individuals lead with authoritative sureness. The male-presenting characters in the show are written to perform in such a way, however, while the female-presenting characters have something more to fight for.

Making the most of Ken Ludwig’s limited scope of gender, perhaps the only glaring criticism of a production like this, the characters written for women leave a lot to be desired. Moriah Faith (Adele, Ensemble), Maria Mercedes (Elise, Ensemble), Pagonis, Cramer, Hetsko and Weston mold their own strength in an effective effort to be their own type of Musketeer: a main character without relying on a sword. In characters that could have easily been reduced to a romantic subplot, or dramatic interludes, they prove the power of she instead. Or, as Pagonis’s elevation of an otherwise plain sidekick sister highlights, the power of they.

Leaving no Musketeer behind, Parker Ryan (Ravanche, Ensemble) subbed opening night, when the show was seen for this review, and catapulted right into Chris Egging’s inspired fight choreography. Had the program omitted their role as assistant director, Ryan would have made a convincing understudy.

Michael Sheridan (Rochefort) and Tom Mattei (Treville, Duke of Buckingham), both solid in their respective roles, round out this crew of swashbuckling thespians.

The sword is indeed mightier in The Pennsylvania Playhouse’s “Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers.” Nothing is mightier, though, than an inspired group of intentional performers found right in our very own backyard adventure.

“Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers,” 7:30 p.m. April 12, 13, 19, 20; 3 p.m. April 21, The Pennsylvania Playhouse, 390 Illick’s Mill Road, Bethlehem. 610-865-6665, http://www.paplayhouse.org/

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY KIM CARSON PHOTOGRAPHY From leftt: Matthew Contakes (King Louis), Stephen Simone (Aramis), Caitie Pagonis (Sabine), Ryan Patrick Allen (Athos), Salem Perez Torres (D'Artagnan), Drake Nester (Porthos), “Ken Ludwig's The Three Musketeers,” The Pennsylvania Playhouse.