All for one and one for all! "The Three Musketeers" comes to AHS
If you expect to see a lot of swashbuckling in the Arlington High School (AHS) Drama Guild production of Ken Ludwig’s The Three Musketeers (see performance information below), you won’t be disappointed, but get ready for some surprises too. Ludwig’s version gives the classic story a feminist twist by including in the dramatis personae not only the young hero D’Artagnon but also his sister, Sabine, who eventually becomes a musketeer herself. With the addition of a female warrior, the drama, originally written by Alexandre Dumas in 1844, enters the 21st century.
Freshman Charlotte Olander, who plays Sabine, came to AHS with substantial experience in the Ottoson Middle School theatre program, where she began in the sixth grade as, in her words, “a mere little fork” in Beauty and the Beast and went on to play Kim MacAfee in Bye, Bye Birdie and the title role in Mary Poppins. About her current role, Olander noted, “I’ve never played a tomboy before, and it’s really exciting. Sabine follows her dream of becoming a musketeer, which is a man’s profession, but she doesn’t back down.”
Like her brother, Sabine does a fair amount of sword fighting. “I adore stage combat,” Olander said, even though she admits to being “kind of scared and embarrassed by it at first because you have to grunt when you’re fighting. Then I saw that everyone was doing it, and we were being praised for making embarrassing sounds, so I started to yell too, and it was fun!”
No doubt that praise came from fight choreographer Nathan Malin, a 2017 AHS graduate who is now a theatre arts major at Boston University (BU). Malin also staged the fight sequences in the AHS productions of Macbeth (2018) and Crazy for You (2017). “Many people are resistant to stage combat not just because of the technical aspects of it,” said Malin, “but because of the emotional elements too. The students need time to get used to it, and they need a safe space to tell the story.” In addition to fencing, this play also includes hand-to-hand combat, and all of it must be carefully choreographed.
Freshman John Caradonna, who plays D'Artagnon, relishes the chance to put that choreography into practice. “I’ve always been a fidgety kind of person," he noted, "and stage combat is a great way to release stress." John is one of three members of his family involved in this production; his brother Joey, a sophomore, plays Porthos, one of the three musketeers, and his sister Maggie, a senior, is a stage manager. Family is also important to D’Artagnon; he first appears onstage in a fencing match with his father and sister, who give him no quarter.
Learning how to defend himself against all comers is an important part of D’Artagnon’s education as well as John's training as an actor, and that’s where Malin’s guidance comes in. “Nathan is a great teacher who explains things in a way that people can understand," John said; "he told us to use the sword like a fishing rod so that instead of swinging it wildly, you cast it out. I grew up going to Florida with my grandparents and fishing a lot, so I get it."
Malin was one of the reasons director Michael Byrne chose this show. “As an AHS student Nathan was very involved in the drama program, having featured roles in Peter and the Starcatcher, A Christmas Carol, and Twelfth Night. Before I made the final decision on whether to direct Macbeth last year, I checked on his availability. I didn’t want to attempt it without a qualified combat choreographer. His training at BU has enhanced his abilities, and he is a wonderful collaborator.”
Byrne noted that he chooses plays based on a four-year rotation, which includes a Shakespeare play, a classic from another culture, a contemporary American work, and a classic American drama. “With this system the students are exposed to a variety of styles and playwrights and will always have experience with Shakespeare at some point in their high-school career. This year we’re exploring a classic from France. The Ludwig adaptation is a fun, contemporary take on the Dumas classic, with Sabine being the playwright’s invention.”
“Stage combat adds another dimension to the actors’ exploration of character,” said Byrne, “and it gives them control over their bodies in the interest of storytelling. Student safety is our first concern; what the audience perceives as aggression onstage is an illusion – like a magic trick. Stage combat is actually a highly disciplined art that has more in common with dance than with real fighting.”
Junior Franco D’Agostino, who plays Athos, describes his experience with stage combat, as “therapeutic because it lets a lot of bad energy out. Fighting the kinds of battles we saw in the movies when we were kids is really enjoyable, and there’s a huge element of acting in it; you have to choose how your character would attack.”
Making choices is something Malin emphasizes with the students. "I've taken stage combat classes in several summer programs," he noted, "and I'm in an advanced one now at BU. All my teachers have focused on the acting involved. There's always a way to advance the plot with a simple set of moves. What's important is that the performers act as well as fight."
On Saturdays Malin attends rehearsals, but during the week it’s up to fight captain Eileen Tucci (class of 2020) to make sure the cast retains what he taught them. “I learn and write down the techniques and choreography Nathan gives the actors. Then I hold ‘fight calls’ before rehearsals to review it all,” said Tucci, whose experience as a dance captain in previous AHS productions prepared her to take on this responsibility. In addition to her backstage duties, she plays the crucial but non-combatant role of Queen Anne, wife of Louis XIII.
Clearly impressed by the enthusiasm of the cast and crew, Malin notes, “I can’t say enough good things about the students. They come at acting with such love for it. I feel lucky to be a part of that. They really give it all they’ve got, and that’s all you can ask for.”
What: The Three Musketeers, by Ken Ludwig, adapted from the novel by Alexandre Dumas, presented by the AHS Drama Guild
When: November 15 at 7:30 p.m. and November 16 at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
Where: Lowe Auditorium, Arlington High School, 869 Massachusetts Avenue
Tickets available at the door, from cast members, and for an additional fee at MKtix.com