06/17/2013 11:04 am ET Updated Aug 14, 2013

The Three Musketeers at Lifeline: Missed It By That Much

Chicago has great actors. This truism means that even the most negative review generally contains some version of ". . . but the acting is great," which makes it all the more surprising that Lifeline Theatre's new production of The Three Musketeers falls short on account of its acting.

To be fair, of course, 90 percent of acting success depends on casting, and the difficulty here is less that the actors are weak than that they were ever-so-slightly miscast by director Amanda Delheimer Dimond. Glenn Stanton as d'Artagnan is a superb swordsman and stage athlete, chinning himself onto platforms and shimmying up poles; but he lacks the innocent charm which makes this guy the hero instead of just a hot-tempered moron determined to steal someone else's wife. Similarly, as the villainess Milady de Winter, Katie McLean Hainsworth excels at the sneaky and nasty part but fails to persuade us of the seductiveness on which Milady's entire life depends. While they're supported by a number of stronger performances, particularly that of Lifeline veteran Sean Sinitski as Cardinal Richelieu and Dwight Sora as Aramis, without powerhouses in the central roles the show never really takes flight.

Which is a shame, because Robert Kauzlaric's adaptation is vintage Lifeline, wringing stage clarity out of textual complexity. Few contemporary Americans (or contemporary Frenchmen, for that matter) could explain the significance of Cardinal Richelieu's sway over the French king or the rivalry between the Cardinal's militia and the Queen's guard or the relationship of either to Musketeers fighting in England. But Kauzlaric renders it all clear with just a well-chosen word here or there.

And Matt Hawkins's fight choreography is absolutely phenomenal, almost terrifyingly so, as the actors simultaneously sword fight, kick-box, slide and leap across Alan Donahue's spare yet flexible set.

In other words: The Three Musketeers is just good enough for me to sincerely regret it's not better.