Reviewed by Audrey Weinbrecht
Three Musketeers: 1941 is presented as a part of the Women in Theatre Festival, which was founded to give a platform to women writers and performers in response to widespread gender parity in the industry.
This world premiere play is a feminist retelling of the classic novel set in Nazi-occupied Paris. Five young women join together to resist the Nazis occupation of their homeland and the French policemen collaborating with them. Nerve-wracking and inspirational, this is a timely piece about ordinary people making a difference fighting radical regimes.
The first act struggles with pacing problems. It takes awhile for the show to establish a sense of danger and high stakes. The act ends with the death of a major character so abruptly that the audience seemed a bit confused. However, the aforementioned death brought a real sense of urgency to the second act which flowed a lot better.
Much of the first act’s trouble with raising the stakes results from ineffective villains. The script relies perhaps a bit too much on the audience’s familiarity with the Nazis history to provide a sense of danger. Yet the protagonists spend the show fighting not the Nazis but their French collaborators who fail to pull their weight.
Inspector Richelieu (Zack Calhoon) is a French policeman working with the Nazis in order to advance his career. Yet most of the time he comes across as an exhausted bureaucrat struggling to meet the demands put on him by his superiors. It’s hard to focus on his willingness to persecute his own countrymen to get ahead when you’re treated to yet another scene of him being berated over the telephone. Milady (Helen Farmer) has more charisma but plays like a clichéd femme fatale. Rochefort (Javan Nelson) also seems more inept than dangerous.
Our heroes fare much better. Athos, Aramis, Porthos, D’artagnan and Planchet are all compellingly written with small flashes of backstory and interiority that lead to significant emotional payoff. The actresses have great chemistry and are individually excellent as well. Their performances make this play one to see despite the unevenness of the plot.
Above all, the decision to portray the famous musketeers as women is powerful but understated. These characters aren’t fighting for women’s issues because they’re women. They’re fighting for freedom because they are human beings living through hell. Gender bending at its most successful illustrates that women’s stories are universal.
Three Musketeers: 1941 opens on June 8th and runs until June 29th at the Jeffrey and Paula Gural Theatre at the A.R.T./New York Theatres (502 West 53rd Street)