Good writers know what to put in. Great writers know what to leave out.
So says Daily Herald film critic Dann Gire, whose axiom I maintain also applies to adapters.
"The Three Musketeers"★ ★ ★
Location: Lifeline Theatre, 6912 N. Glenwood Ave., Chicago, (773) 761-4477 or lifelinetheatre.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Thursday and Friday; 4 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 4 p.m. Sunday. No shows June 30 and July 4.
Running time: About two hours, 30 minutes with intermission
Parking: Limited street parking. Free parking available in a lot at the northeast corner of Morse and Ravenswood avenues. Free shuttle service available before and after the show.
Rating: For teens and older
Case in point: Robert Kauzlaric's faithful take on Alexandre Dumas' "The Three Musketeers," currently running at Lifeline Theatre, which has specialized in literary adaptations for 30 years.
Kauzlaric -- a Jeff Award winner for his adaptations of H.G. Wells' "The Island of Dr. Moreau" and Neil Gaiman's "Neverwhere" -- adapted Dumas' 19th century swashbuckler in 2011 and again this year. It's an ambitious work, yet had Kauzlaric followed Dann's doctrine -- by tightening the exposition, excising some of the ancillary intrigue and fleshing out the thinly drawn characters -- his "Musketeers" would have impressed even more.
That said, director Amanda Delheimer Dimond's fast-moving, multiethnic production is certainly entertaining. Much of its appeal comes from Matt Hawkins' exceptional, acrobatic fight choreography which unfolds on Alan Donahue's stripped-down set made up of wood and steel and held together by cable wire. It's here, on what resembles scaffolding, that Hawkins' rollicking duels unfold. The actors scamper up stairs and along catwalks, swing like gymnasts from high bars and spin and slide down poles like firefighters responding to a multi-alarm blaze.
A tale of loyalty and friendship, intrigue and ambition, power and revenge, "The Three Musketeers" is at its core a coming-of-age story centered on young D'Artagnan, played by the chiseled Glenn Stanton with an engaging mix of egoism and impulsiveness.
D'Artagnan leaves his native Gascony for Paris where he hopes to join the musketeers who serve King Louis XIII (a comically self-absorbed Miguel Nunez), whose reign depends upon an uneasy alliance with the calculating Cardinal Richelieu (Sean Sinitski, who wisely underplays the character's menace). Along with his own cadre of soldiers, the power-hungry prelate also commands the loyalty of the treacherous Milady de Winter, played by Katie McLean Hainsworth. McLean Hainsworth brings dimension to this consummate femme fatale, the play's villain and its most complex, fully realized character.
On his journey, D'Artagnan unwittingly offends three musketeers: the endearing sensualist Porthos (the affable, comical Christopher M. Walsh); deeply religious Aramis (Dwight Sora), who vows to return to the priesthood when his fighting days are over; and the wary Athos (a nicely brooding Chris Hainsworth).
Each challenges D'Artagnan to a duel. But before the quartet can satisfy their petty quarrels, they're set upon by the cardinal's guards. Despite being outnumbered, they prevail and solidify their bond while they earn the cardinal's hostility.
Newly minted musketeer D'Artagnan romances Constance (Deanna Myers), devoted servant to Queen Anne (Mildred Marie Langford). Anne is trapped in a loveless political marriage to Louis. She fends off lustful advances from the cardinal and England's Duke of Buckingham (also played by Nunez), whose suit the noble Anne rejects despite her love for him.
Secret affairs, political conspiracies, theft, extortion, kidnapping and murder unfold at a dizzying pace in a play that begins as a lighthearted romp but turns darker in a second act dominated by deception and death. Balancing the comic with the tragic is like walking a tightrope. Not everyone in Lifeline's production makes it across without stumbling.
Fortunately, when it comes to swordfighting, they are sure of foot.