Opening The People's Light & Theatre Company's 2001-2002 season is the East Coast Premiere of "Les Trois Dumas" by Charles Smith. In three acts, the play moves backward and forward in time to tell the story of three generations of French-African men in the famous Dumas family: Alexandre Dumas pére, author of "The Three Musketeers", "The Count of Monte Cristo" and "The Man in the Iron Mask"; Alexandre Dumas fils, author of "Les Dame aux Camelias" (Camille) and "Le Demi-Monde" and his grandfather, General Thomas Alexandre Dumas who served as one of Napoleon's most trusted generals before being branded as a deserter.
From start to finish the play is a high spirited jaunt through the colorful escapades of Dumas pére, whose passion for writing is matched only by his passion for living. A prolific writer and well-known hedonist, he pursues a life of debauchery in a luxurious Parisian chateau between plays and novels. His son, Dumas fils, who is horrified by his father's scandalous behavior, begs him to tone down his antics for the sake of his social standing in Parisian society. The son's personality is in direct opposition to his father's. Where the father is robust, egocentric and grandiloquent, the son is sickly, sober and circumspect. This father/son conflict provides the main dramatic bridge which links the farcical elements together.
It is 1848 and as Dumas pére awaits his induction into the hallowed Academie Francaise he fills his time by chasing his latest flame, actress Ida Ferrier around the estate. He is importunely interrupted by a visit from George Sand, (authoress and theatre producer) and Felix Harel, (theatrical manager and would-be author) who have come to procure Dumas's latest play. Ida demands a formal introduction to Miss Sand, but Alexandre demurs, afraid that George will steal Ida away before he has conquered her. Ida will not capitulate to Alexandre without the assurance that she will star in his next play and have an introduction to George (who is now reading Dumas new play in the beaudouir). Alexandre finally acquiesces and promises Ida the role and introduces her to George who is at once charmed. But things get thorny when Victor Hugo bursts through the door announcing that he, Hugo, has just been inducted into the Academy. Alexandre is crushed. He feels he has been passed over because of his heritage and flamboyant lifestyle. Victor, being a good friend, promises Alexandre that he will use his influence with the Academy to nominate him. Of course, Victor asks but one favor and that is that Dumas cast Hugo's niece as his new leading lady. Alexandre is definitely in a bind. To make matters worse he insults Harel's lame attempt at prose by not only trashing his novel, figuratively and literally, but by stealing the storyline for one of his own plays. Under the pseudonym of De Mirecourt, Harel issues a pamphlet lambasting Dumas pére as a plaigirist. Concerned about his own reputation Dumas fils insists that his father challenge De Mirecourt to a duel. Dumas pére invites De Mirecourt to a masquerade ball and more complications ensue.
Interspersed throughout the evening is the unraveling of grandfather General Thomas Alexandre's past. In a feverish state, Dumas fils is visited by his grandfather's ghost. He finds out the truth behind the great man's disgrace and finds a new respect for his grandfather's memory as well as his father's love of the General. This helps Dumas fils to reconcile with his own father by the end of the play.
The play is written in the romantic declamatory style of the period. There are a lot of speeches -- especially by Dumas pére, who never seems to stop talking. But we soon tend to agree with the character's fascination with himself. The play is long, running almost three hours, and it wouldn't suffer from a session with the blue pencil. However, I must say that time is -- pardon the pun -- relative. And I, for one, was having too good a time to mind the length all that much.
The clever scenic design by Donald Eastman evokes an ostentatious chateau under construction. A high wall of the main sitting room is half painted and a large, crystal chandelier is pulled off to the side. The comfortable furniture is large, lavish and lived in. Like the half-realized statue of General Thomas that Dumas pére has yet to finish, the chateau reflects Dumas pere's tumultuous life -- a work still in progress. The delicious costume confections by Merrily Murray-Walsh employ gem tones that are eye-poppingly attractive against the muted colors of the set.
Brian Anthony Wilson as the overblown Alexandre Dumas pére is utterly charming. His vibrant, ingratiating persona makes all his excesses seem like the harmless peccadilloes of a sophisticated bon vivant. Elizabeth Webster is adorable as the spoiled coquette, Ida Ferrier and Stephen Novelli is very funny as the pathetic Monsieur Felix Harel.
If you like literary your history combined with historical fiction then you will find this play captivating. It's a glimpse into the lives of famed authors-of-their-day with an entertaining tragi-comic twist.
For tickets call the Box Office at: (610) 644-3500 or log onto the People's Light website at:
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