But back to tragedy. A few people get killed in this show. So there’s that. But the great surprise is that the body of the production outside the prerequisite violence is that the Two Musketeers is hysterical, well acted, musically kooky and wonderful, thrilling, and at times so witty—Monty Python looks like slow motion in comparison. No doubt Monty Python influence will spring to mind when enjoying the show, and the Director Lauren Caldwell is quoted saying as much about the legendary comic group, in terms of their influence on the play. Most all of the comedy lands, and lands hard and funny. Much of the work outside the impressive acting of the entire cast is the demanding physicality; so much so, I am in awe how these actors can do this play almost every single day, including two shows on Saturday and Sunday. It’s Jackie-Chan-level stuff here. They do all their own stunts. But back to the swordplay and fisticuffs—what I came for.
The fight choreography was directed by Tiza Garland, a Professor of Theatre at the University of Florida where she teaches in the MFA, BFA, and BA programs. Garland also teaches and/or advises on such diverse topics as movement, stage combat, period styles movement (a whole different ballpark), and Dialects. Garland is certified and accredited by almost everybody who matters. She’s easy to recognize in the play; she’s the one who, despite her exotic beauty and allure, looks like she can quick-snip everyone’s heart out with her pinky nail while at the same time, casually putting on her diabolical leather knee-high boots. She’s also a focused intense actor who demands and earns her presence and attention from the audience. Her fight choreography is top notch. I gasped out loud during some of the sword fighting. Imagine three pairs of Errol Flynn people cavorting around the small thrust stage waving pointy foils at each other in battle, all at the same time. I never feared for audience members and it was clear the actors were in total command of their combat work, but I sure did enjoy folks in the front rows ducking and flinching. Get those choice seats if you really want a thrill.
Lauren Caldwell’s direction has a little bit of everything going on and again, we are met with a dizzying mishmash of styles, genres, sensibilities that all serve the storytelling in a most loopy and abstract way. It’s a bit of her signature that certain 80s tunes will appropriately appear in the midst of the authentic music of the period. It's a given that the cast will break out in spontaneous synchronistic dance (think Do The Locomotion in the middle of David Lynch’s Inland Empire). And we love it! Caldwell, in a World Premiere situation where she has the freedom to do whatever the hell she feels like with the material, does exactly that. Her style is unmistakable and at its best, elevates and supports the material on every level into art beyond the play. She’s doing something like Picasso’s-Blue-Period meets Jackson-Pollock. She turns the play on its side and throws cockeyed stuff at it, and we as the audience must engage on many levels at once because it works. There is love and ownership of this material, and I would imagine few other regional theaters could take the same material and do better. This is an American original!
Each actor brings a range of skills to bear in this demanding play. They must be adept with swords, knives, hand-to-hand combat. They must be entirely physical, quick change artists, actors capable of portraying multiple roles, and in the case of this play, they must all be provocative, superbly timed comics, and sexy. Yes, this play is sexy! Every thrust of the sword runs deftly on the edge of blue. The costumes, some of which may be unimaginable to put on much less take off, become their own sort of steamy camp. It’s worth it to note that yes, there is a story (two really, if we take on the plight of the underfunded actors). The Musketeers legend is the glue holding this classic freak-show together. The most significant thing I could say about this ensemble is that they take their work and this material seriously. That’s how you squeeze comedy out of something. And above all, we as an audience share in the obvious joy and enthusiasm the cast is experiencing in acting these parts. All of them so good, I feel I’m doing a disservice pointing anybody in the cast out as a favorite. So let me quip them each: Tiza Garland - eminently watchable, a villain of Disney Cartoon quality but with a moral center that invites our empathy, should be playing Wonder Woman in place of Gal Gadot. David Patrick Ford as D’Artagnan brings dashing charm, sex appeal, and athleticism to our protagonist (think, Carey Elwes in Princess Bride). Am I losing anybody in these references? Michael Stewart Allen takes on several roles and brings his masculine wit, intelligence, and rationalism to the parts. He’s able to be the most serious which gives the comedy something to springboard off of. You may remember Allen as Father Flynn in the HIPP’s past production of Doubt. Both he and Sara Morsey out-shined their Hollywood counterparts from the film version in that production, all due respect to the late great Philip Seymour Hoffman and the virtually untouchable Meryl Streep. Caitlin Hargraves manages to be the softer side, yet equally fierce and capable as her counterpart, Tiza Garland. Garland’s intensity is expected and delivered as promised. Hargraves’ comes out of the blue when she strikes, and always as a surprise, which keeps us enthralled. And then there’s the half-a-musketeer played by Nick Clark Tanner, always arriving just moments after repeated infamous ritual man-bonding moments, “Two for one and one for two!”. He plays the flavor of this slightly-behind-the-curve wanna’ be musketeer pitch-perfect. And my gosh, is he gifted with comic timing!
Some of the thrill of live theater and with a show like this is that so much is demanded of the actors in terms of physical action, wardrobe, blocking, pacing, etc., that one or two little moments are bound to go extraordinary wrong or extraordinary right. This cast is so capable on-the-fly that we saw at least three moments of unscripted brilliance opening night. An enevelope with a message drops from the ceiling. A dead cast member sprawled face down on the stage manages to suddenly be standing alive in a split second as another character, and snatches the falling envelope out of thin air. A sword is put down, accidentally rolls off its perch, and is caught mid-flight by the actor who then makes a hilarious bit out of slowly and deliberately replacing the sword back where it dropped from. A chest door which the actor hides behind accidentally falls closed, revealing his hiding spot. How fast he was in pulling that door back up! And never missing a beat, he mugged the incident up and it became yet another happenstance flashpoint for comedy. And then there is Matthew Lindsay, a Hippodrome stalwart. Let’s just say he wears the checkered plastic picnic table cloth, and combined with his sports jacket and ball cap, makes for one of the most absurd Cardinal Richelieu portrayals since Cardinal Richelieu himself. Lindsay’s versatility, comedic timing, and surprising agility round out this extraordinary ensemble.
The lighting by Bob Robbins is superb, costumes by Jessica Nilacala Kreitzer are both period authentic and, when called for, absurdly camp-tastic. Properties by Angela Zylla, and there are many, must have been a monumental effort to source. And on that note, mad props (that’s a properties joke) to the Stage Manager Amber Wilkerson for what must have been a Herculean undertaking to keep under control. Mihai Ciupe’s scenic design evokes multiple environments and includes a visible backstage where the audience can have the distance pleasure of watching the actors, playing…actors, manipulate props, quick change in full view, and engage in other back-stage antics that will be a special pleasure for other actors and practitioners of the theatrical arts. The musical choices are broad-ranging, hilarious, environmentally supportive, and always engaging. In a way, the music is like an unsung actor. I was not entirely satisfied that all the volume levels of an admittedly complicated sound aspect of the show. Some scene changes which invited more volume for the music to take center stage seemed timid and quiet at times, as if there were some fear of blowing out the ears of older folks, maybe? Some of the environmental music was so low as to not be quite sonically present. But this is a trifle, and may have been something they’re working as the play evolves from opening night and over the run of the show. I figure if I can barely hear something (which then, ironically, becomes a distraction), either turn it up a little, or turn it off. As the music is integral to the show, I’d turn it up if I were me. We don’t want to piss off Aristotle, do we? The remarkable diverse sound design is by Amanda Yanes. And you know Director Lauren Caldwell was also highly influential in the sound department as well, if you know your 80s music.
The Two Musketeers is a high-quality, exuberant, hilarious, ribald, sexy, sword-fighting, face-punching, crotch-kicking, rollicking, musical good-time-adventure at the Hippodrome Theatre; a powerhouse comedic spectacle! Like I said, get those front seats if you can, make sure to duck (not that you have to, but hey, it’s fun…), and come on, support the arts. Seeing this show is a great easy fun way to do that. So do it. Because without your support, I can guarantee: The One Musketeer will not be a funny play.
— Tom Miller
BONUS MATERIAL: SECRETS OF THE TRADE
* It may interest you to know the actors have only three weeks from start to finish to mount a Hippodrome show. In the first three days, sans blocking and table-work, the cast spent this time exclusively on sword-work and stage combat under the direction of Tiza Garland.
* The Two Musketeers is a world premiere! Director Lauren Caldwell had complete creative control as to how to approach the material. You are seeing a Gainesville/Caldwell original production that nobody else has seen or will ever see again.
DON'T MISS THIS FABULOUS AND HYSTERICAL SHOW! Keep an eye out at THE HIPP for special discounts, extended run information, and more.
Thank you to 'Deep Throat' for the inside information.