Before you can mouth "all for one and one for all," the blades start flying in Lifeline Theatre's modern-dress, school's-out-for-summer adaptation of Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers."
With a wild set from Alan Donahue that resembles a high-tech adventure playground more than 17th-century France — think horizontal bars, ladders and fireman's poles — the production is a terrific showcase for the ebullient fight choreography of Matt Hawkins, who seizes this particular opportunity like a modern-day D'Artagnan. Touche, indeed.
Luckily for Hawkins and his audience, Athos, Porthos and Aramis like to do their sword work en masse, a communal spirit that Hawkins adroitly exploits. If you're of the "seen-one-fight-seen-'em-all" school, you'll be struck by the genuine freshness of Hawkins' work, partly because Donahue's set features so many diagonal structures that the blade scenes are constantly pushed into new and interesting visual directions.
If only the rest of director Amanda Delheimer Dimond's uneven production could match the fights. The dialogic scenes do have their moments. Dumas was, after all, a fine spinner of adventure yarns. And the story of the elite fighting force and the plucky Gascon, who wants only to be in their number, generally enters our consciousness very young: My earliest memory was watching the animated version on the old "Banana Splits" Saturday morning animated show. From there, I devoured the book.
Though Robert Kauzlaric's adaptation is literate and faithful to the original story, it lacks the requisite theatrical shaping that could really bring the tale to life. Kauzlaric does not use a narrator or even a particular point of view or metaphor.
The result is a dramatization that spends so much time unspooling the plot in short scenes that you don't get enough character development or a high-stakes arc. The three musketeers are the ones on the marquee (along with D'Artagnan, by implication), and yet they don't really pop here as a thrilling unit.
Until they start to fight, anyway.
This is quite a complicated (and long) story, actually, and the Lifeline show uses a lot of doubling, which, unless you know this story well, can make it tough to follow. Rochefort and Lord de Winter are played by Mike Ooi. D'Artagnan's mom (played by Mildred Marie Langford) shows up again as Queen Anne and Madame Coquenard. King Louis and the Duke of Buckingham are both played by Miguel Nunez. You get the idea. And when you're talking modern dress, there's little help there.
Glenn Stanton, who plays D'Artagnan, is a lively and engaging presence, and Chris Hainsworth, who plays Athos, has some of the sense of humor that the rest of this production badly needs. Dumas was a more complex writer than your typical Hollywood blockbuster type, so his heroes of daring do have their moral limitations and suffer from the travails of serving an array of potential masters.
But at the end of the night, they must be exuberant personalities who can teach us that the best superheroes always fight together — and know when to retire.
When: Through July 21
Where: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave.
Running time: 2 hours,
Tickets: $40 at 773-761-4477 or lifelinetheatre.com