Epée pals Cast of The Three Musketeers digs into French colonial history, literature to portray swashbuckling companions

It’s midday on Market Avenue and Darren Martens is holding Matthew Paris-Irvine at swordpoint.

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It’s midday on Market Avenue and Darren Martens is holding Matthew Paris-Irvine at swordpoint.

As the assistant director of The Three Musketeers, this type of dispute is an occupational hazard for Paris-Irvine, who, in his defence, holds up a copy of the 1844 Alexandre Dumas novel, which follows three swashbuckling swordsmen and their nouvel ami D’Artagnan as they duel their way through revolutionary France.

Theatre Preview

The Three Musketeers
Adapted by Catherine Bush from the novel by Alexandre Dumas
● Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre, John Hirsch Mainstage
● Opens Thursday, runs to Dec. 17
● Tickets at royalmtc.ca

With a story as old and as beloved as The Three Musketeers, Paris-Irvine, along with the rest of the cast and crew of the Royal Manitoba Theatre Centre’s current mainstage production, had his work cut out for him.

The playwright Catherine Bush’s adaptation trimmed Dumas’s original tome — rich with history, allegory and character detail — down to a tight script, so Paris-Irvine was tasked with creating a Musketeer bible to make up for what ended up on the cutting-room floor.

“Our director (Christopher Brauer) does his own research, and his job is to create the parameters for action to move through space and time,” says Paris-Irvine, a founder of Winnipeg’s Out From Under the Rug theatre collective. “My job was to create background based on the historicity of Dumas, who, for someone like myself who is also of mixed ancestry, is a big hero of mine.”

Paris-Irvine, as every individual involved in the production did on some level, began to delve into roughly 700 years of French colonial history, etiquette, literature and swordplay, trying to compile for the cast a compendium that would provide seedlings of character notes, traits and motives.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Three Musketeers star Darren Martens (right) and assistant director Matthew Paris-Irvine

He ended up with 110 pages of notes, later winnowed down to a less onerous 67.

“I cannot imagine all of (this information) is immediately useful to all of us,” Paris-Irvine wrote in the bible. “I say a prayer for the scores of hours of content that are not included in this doc that exist now only in my confusing internet history.”

Martens, who plays Aramis, was more than happy to receive the fruits of his assistant director’s labour, which supplemented the Grunthal-raised actor’s own journey into his character’s psyche.

“The thing that I love about this book, and maybe it is because I am an actor, is that Dumas had an innate understanding of human relationships, and his descriptions of characters is purposeful and effective,” says Martens, whose wife bought him a leatherbound copy of the novel as an opening-night gift.

“When we first meet Aramis, we understand him within the first paragraph,” he adds.

The sword is greater than the sum of its parts

The type of duelling sword Martens’ Aramis wields is called a rapier, which has several components. The sword’s guard is made up of a pommel, which acts as a counterweight at the rapier’s base. Then there is a Turk’s head, which creates space between the pommel and the handle, which is the part of the sword that is held.

The type of duelling sword Martens’ Aramis wields is called a rapier, which has several components. The sword’s guard is made up of a pommel, which acts as a counterweight at the rapier’s base. Then there is a Turk’s head, which creates space between the pommel and the handle, which is the part of the sword that is held.
Above the handle is the crossbar, which protects the hand and deflects an opponent’s sword. The guard is made up of sweepings, which are rings and rods meant to protect the hand; these sweepings work in conjunction with the knuckle guard, which in turn works with the cup, a curved piece of metal that surrounds the hand.
The rapier’s blade is composed of a tang, a “long tongue” of metal that emerges from the pommel. Next is the ricasso, an unsharpened section of the blade. Then comes the sharpened part, which is referred to simply as the blade. At the end of the blade is the point, used to stab at the opponent.
The part of the blade used for defence is called the strong, and the part of the blade used for offence is called the weak. Different terminologies are often used in varying languages.

Porthos is described by Dumas as a brawny, strong, dashing man of high countenance, and Aramis is described as Porthos’ perfect contrast.

With The Three Musketeers, Dumas fashioned a roman à clef, basing his characters on existing history but expanding them for literary purpose. That methodology leads to beautifully considered character notes Martens and Paris-Irvine discovered in their research.

“He is open, of ingenuous countenance, with cheeks rosy and downy as an autumn peach,” Martens reads, quoting directly from Dumas’s quill. “He appeared to dread to lower his hands, lest the veins should swell.”

Aramis used almond cream of some kind to keep his hands smooth: he was a pretty-boy skin-care influencer with a master’s degree in swordplay.

Taking the time to read and research a character affords Martens and other actors the potential to craft mannerisms that round out Bush’s dialogue, which echoes but recontextualizes the original text. As Paris-Irvine says, to adapt any work involves creative choices and liberties.

Dumas himself deployed such freedom willingly with The Three Musketeers, which itself was based upon a “fictional biography” called The Memoirs of D’Artagnan, written in 1700 by Gatien de Courtilz de Sandras.

D’Artagnan was a real person, a real musketeer under Louis XIII and guard of Louis XIV; the memoirs were mostly lies.

JESSICA LEE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Martens demonstrates his rapier technique; the actor wields a sword as Aramis in The Three Musketeers.

But within those lies resided universal truths of chivalry, loyalty and revenge, which have each helped usher Dumas’s original work to the top shelf of the French literary canon.

That’s why Paris-Irvine couldn’t seem to stop researching: there was just so much to explore that finishing work on the bible proved nearly impossible. It was mere days before rehearsals began that he finally wound it down and clicked “send.”

Several sections of the bible deal with swordplay, which Martens was keen to display in the middle of the East Exchange District a few days before opening night.

As Martens pointed his sword at Paris-Irvine, a man walked by, seemingly undisturbed by what he was witnessing.

“I’ve seen this once or twice,” Lloyd Mymko said.

ben.waldman@winnipegfreepress.com

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Ben Waldman

Ben Waldman
Reporter

Ben Waldman covers a little bit of everything for the Free Press.

History

Updated on Wednesday, November 23, 2022 8:00 AM CST: Fixes spelling

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