“Swords are sexy,” explains the audience guide for Book-It Repertory Theatre’s action-packed, pandemic-compatible audio drama of Alexandre Dumas’s “The Three Musketeers.” Those three simple words cast and seal the magnetism of the swashbuckling, charismatic world adapted and directed for modern ears by Lamar Legend. The second show in Book-It’s 32nd season, “The Three Musketeers” intends to cherish the classics while incorporating new voices.
“The Three Musketeers” is an adventure told directly from the mouth of bright, romantic D’Artagnan (Trick Danneker) to the ears of listener. He tells of his quests for love, revenge and fortune during the war between France and England in the early 1600s. Such pursuits are as rife with betrayal and intrigue as they are deep with kinship and loyalty.
The language of the adaptation, while highlighting modern vocabulary and figures of speech, still offers the finery and tone expected of classic text. “The Three Musketeers” lives in both the classic and modern vernacular — and lives large, down to a well-placed, “Huh. Well, I’ll be damned!” from the hilarious and extravagant Porthos (Nicholas JaPaul Bernard). The entire cast creates distinct voices that make large, audio-only conversations easy to follow, from Kate Jaeger’s complex, secretive Milady De Winter to Porscha Shaw’s serious, driven Athos.
Some fans may be familiar with the medium of audio drama already, from radio drama to audiobooks. But for those with suspicions, rest assured that “The Three Musketeers” loses no theatricality even when visual aspects are removed: Immersive soundscapes and well-placed whooshes of weaponry seat the listener at the front lines of the action.
In lieu of duels set in physical space, director Legend casts combat as gripping poetry that ranges from technical to romantic. The drum of hoofbeats and blasts of muskets set the tension of pursuit, and silence is thoughtfully placed to draw attention to juicy detail. The comedy is timeless in execution while sticking to period-specific topics, including a fast-paced dialogue of miscommunications that begins with wine and ends with a shocking discovery.
Legend seizes the challenge of adapting a physically driven show to an audio-only experience as we approach the close of the second year of the pandemic, which has throttled the performing arts. Digital theater is more than capable of lushness and exquisite emotional life, as evidenced by the enchanting and passionate performances by the cast; however, Legend’s adaptation reminds us that directly comparing digital and in-person theater hurts both artforms. Where a choreographed fight could not have taken place, the combatants’ monologues give new form to previous expectations and challenge the listener to see the characters’ plight through different lenses.
Book-It challenges the listener to consider their personal story and how it connects to stories of the people they know — with the help of a cocktail recipe included in the audience guide. The guide recommends the interested listener look into other action-packed fantasy titles, from classics like Dumas’s “The Count of Monte Cristo” to more recent releases, such as Sarah J. Maas’s “Throne of Glass.”
W. Barnett Marcus is an actor and playwright from Tacoma who can be found on Twitter @WBarnettMarcus.
Read more of the Dec. 15-21, 2021 issue.