D'Artagnan (Ryan Montgomery) and Athos (Dave Maier), ready for yet another battle.
Adapted by Joanie McBrien and Dave Garrett from the novel by Alexandre Dumas. Starring Eric Burns, Dave Maier, Gabe Weiss, and Ryan Montgomery. Directed by Joanie McBrien. Through Sept. 9. Tickets are free; call 510-841-6500 or visit www.shotgunplayers.org.
John Hinkel Park, Southampton Avenue (near the Arlington), Berkeley
If the actors were utilizing different combat styles, they were lost on me. In general, what comes across is a deliberate forward-and-backward motion accompanied by clanking swords, intermittent grunts and groans, and the occasional keeling over of a corpse. The fights appear workmanlike because they often seem unmotivated. The actors appear to be going through the motions without quite knowing why. It neither helps the thrill factor any that the dialogue is, for the most part, as stilted as the dueling ("Enough! I will not have this haunting of vile places, this quarreling in the street! The Cardinal's men are respectful and they do not suffer the indignity of surrender," etc.) nor that the fight scenes are underpinned by an underwhelming musical accompaniment. Critics used to make fun of Royal Shakespeare Company productions in the late 20th century for constantly staging battle scenes against the backdrop of thunderous trumpets and drums. But at least brass and percussion are warlike. There's nothing aggressive about the combination of a warbling flute and scratchy violin.
It's curious that The Three Musketeers should miss its target so widely, given the fact that Shotgun Players knows a thing or two about how to stage a damn good scrap. Maier is a skilled fight director, and his razor-edged work on the company's firecracker production of Cyrano de Bergerac a couple of summers ago is a case in point. But as far as this show is concerned, some of the fight sequences might be better excised. Or maybe it's a question of inspiring the actors to get in touch with their own aggressive impulses more deeply, as Lane suggests, to make the rapier-work truly come alive.