Charles Pasternak plays both the king and his imprisoned brother in 'The Man in The Iron Mask.' (r.r. jones)
Shakespeare Santa Cruz unveiled its world premiere production of The Man in the Iron Mask with a rollicking flourish on July 28 in the incomparable Festival Glen. The plot-bending reconstruction of the Dumas classic by Scott Wentworth (who also directs this season's Henry IV: Part II) offered up great helpings of slapstick, melodrama and multiple endings to the energetic tale of aging musketeers recalled to service in the aid of France's true king, imprisoned in the Bastille.
Charismatic costuming by the reliably dazzling B. Modern, a spare set adorned handsomely with long royal blue drapery (kudos to Michael Ganio) and rousing sound design by Rodolfo Ortega helped plunge the opening night audience into the charming manners and postures of the mid-17th century. Years have past since the heyday of the three musketeers and their Gascon comrade d'Artagnan swashed and buckled their way into European folklore. Now a foppish and malevolent Louis XIV (played with inspired flourish by Charles Pasternak) holds France in his iron grip. His court is well supplied with beauties-in-waiting (each more prettily costumed than the next by Modern), his aging but resolute mother Queen Ann (the refreshingly elegant Marion Adler) and his Captain of the Musketeers, D'Artagnan (Kit Wilder).
Meanwhile, the former musketeers have gone their own ways: Aramis, now a rising star in the Jesuit hierarchy (V. Craig Heidenreich); Porthos (Ted Barton), now a corpulent baron; and Athos (Dierk Torsek), bereaved over the loss of his son. Each player is introduced in quick succession through a series of gem-like scenes cleverly penned by playwright Wentworth to set agendas as well as to move the action straight into the heart of the play—a royal secret whose discovery will change the course of French history.
Along the way, especially during the first act of this serio-comic redux, there are wonderful comic moments—many of them blatantly over the top, as when the vain Porthos complains about his wardrobe and fantasizes about his legacy. Others are crisp and pithy, as in most lines delivered by the regal Heidenreich, who knows, perhaps more than any other actor on the stage, how to hold our attention and chew a line. Brilliantly. All of the intersecting bits of plot business—how the aging musketeers arrange for some mid-life derring-do, or how the king's henchmen discover what the abbé/Aramis is up to at the Bastille—breeze by briskly. Many of the swordfights are as well executed as they are staged, and the entire cast is given much to do, perhaps a bit too much, during the play's two hours. Only an unconvincing female love interest lessens the romping fun of the play's center. An "all things to all people's politics" climax blurs the final impact.
The Man in the Iron Mask has been handsomely designed to please audiences of all ages.
THE MAN IN THE IRON MASK
Through Aug. 26 in the Sinsheimer-Stanley Festival Glen
Tickets $33-50 ($20 rush tickets available one hour prior to selected shows)
www.shakespearesantacruz.org or 831.459.2159