While many Swarthmore students spent their Valentine’s Day getting screwed, I had the luxury of learning to thrust. Yes, that’s right. The cast of this year’s honor’s acting thesis production had me well lubricated with French red wine before drawing swords to demonstrate the perfect stroke.
If you would like to witness a shrieking, wailing Mark Levine-Weinberg ‘14 shake his blonde locks like the late Shirley Temple – too early? – come to “The Three Musketeers!” This “gender bending, swashbuckling, physical comedy” has no problem getting up close with the audience. Performers were sure to bring their exuberant ludicrousness to every inch of Frear as they made their way over, around, and under the stage.
Katie Goldman ’14, Madeleine Charne ’14, and Anna Russell ’14 each sport boots, top hats, and button shirts as they woo, threaten, and torment the dainty Levine-Weinberg throughout the show. The interweaving of eloquent sixteenth century jargon with shouts of “fuck it!” and “you broke the bro code!” interspersed provide the hilarity born from anachronistic elements.
The play stemmed from improvisational exercises that the actors participated in at the direction of Philadelphia theatre artist Anisa George. George is the creator of Penn Dixie Productions, an experimental theatre company founded in 2009. “I’m a writer who avoids all kinds of writing – scripts, screenplays, or anything involving words on paper. I write on my feet in 3D, through questions, objects, improvisation, dance, images, and other artists much more talented than I am.”
The improv sessions were recorded and George wrote the script based on those sessions. “Each improv was filmed and then Anisa wrote scenes based on the work we did, usually compiling lines from many different versions of the improvised scenes,” said Charne. In her artistic statement, George explains that her words stem from “ a state of crisis and unknowing.” For her, questioning lies at the heart of all her creative work.
The ensemble began the process by discussing the novel “The Three Musketeers” and talking about how they each connected with it. “We began playing with the characters and with the idea of women playing men and started just playing around with improvisations and compositions. From those initial exercises we began to come up with an initial structure for the story.”
The ensemble did not intend to use the big, square platform in the middle of Frear Theatre as their stage. “We first felt it was in the way, but soon we started playing with it and realized how awesome of a space it could be,” recalls Charne. “No place is off limits.” This freedom of movement is evident from the start of the show through to the end.
Actors demonstrate their range of performance skills throughout the show. The partially playful, partially dramatic soundtrack compiled by Adriano Shaplin is accompanied by Goldman’s heart-wrenching violin playing. The acrobatic swordplay showcases the strength and flexibility of the actors as well as the time put into rehearsing.
The most original aspect of this production lies in the performers coming out of character to
bicker about the direction in which events will go. “You can’t escape that way! You went through the wall. Come back!” bellows Goldman as the musketeers corner a trembling Levine-Weinberg. In another instance, Charne, exasperated and unimpressed, dryly states, “That’s not a real wall,” as Goldman’s character attempts to display his strength by lifting a piece of the set from the floor.
Unconventionally written, rehearsed, and produced, the show is sure to be an original experience for cast and audience alike. It will take place Friday, February 21 at 8 p.m, Saturday, February 22nd at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m, and Sunday, February 23 at 8 p.m. in the LPAC Frear Ensemble Theatre.