Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Berkshire TheaterReview
Cyrano de Bergerac
By Elyse Sommer
Think big nose and the name that springs to mind is Cyrano de Bergerac, Edmond Rostand's fictional version of a real person named Savinien Cyrano. In the more than a hundred years have passed since Parisian critics and audiences embraced it for its wit, romantic eloquence and theatricality. Since that opening with its some forty curtain calls, an abundance of staged and filmed versions have made Cyrano as familiar a character as Hamlet and Romeo.
The world's most famous actors have coveted the role of the dashing seventeenth century swordsman and master poet with a proboscis that as he puts it "precedes me by a quarter of an hour wherever I go" and makes him too self-conscious to declare his love for the beautiful Roxanne except through a handsome proxy.
The last acting luminary to undertake the role in New York was Frank Langella. His Cyrano landed in New York on a wave of excited buzz. For one thing, except for a clumsy Dutch musical version in 1993, this was Broadway's first major mounting of the play in years. For another, if anyone could once again make Cyrano's mix of derring-do swashbuckler and agonizingly insecure romantic resonate, it was Langella. To everyone's disappointment, this Cyrano fell on the sword of Langella's excessive ambition -- besides playing the lead, he adapted and directed. His use of the rather shopworn original translation by Brian Hooker didn't help matters and many viewers, this one included, were left with a considerably diminished enthusiasm at the thought of seeing another Cyrano de Bergerac. All this by way of a rather lengthy detour to admitting that I didn't exactly jump for joy when I saw Barrington Stage's announcement that it would close its Main Stage season with a new production of Cyrano de Bergerac.
To cut right to the chase. My lack of enthusiasm was unfounded. This is an entertaining, well-acted and excitingly staged production. Christopher Innvar is as dapper a leading man as you could hope for, his charisma shining through his immense proboscis. He handles the clever text (a crisp translation by Lowell Bair) with well-timed clarity and wields his sword with assured grace. When he gives the foppish thorn in his side, Valvert (Michael Burnet), his comeuppance, he deftly combines wordplay and swordplay.
Among the original touches that enhance Ms. Boyd's adaptations are the periodic appearances of musicians Alex Walker and Adam McOwen at the top of one of the two stair cases at either side of the stage to perform Ray Leslee's appealing original music. These musical interludes, abetted by playwright Mark St. Germain's "Lyrics" and "Ballade de Valvert", help to establish the shifting moods as the action shifts from from theater-bar, to bakery, to the balcony where Cyrano-via-Christian (Dylan Fergus ) woos Roxanne (Heather Ayres), to battlefield and finally to a convent.
The music, plus Innvar's musically trained voice and a second act battle scene in which this amazingly resourceful director evokes the feeling of a Hollywood-Broadway spectacle, at times gave me the sense that I was actually watching a musical rather than a play with occasional music. Michael Burnet's fight direction is indeed aptly tagged as fight choreography and his also playing the part of the man defeated by Cyrano's superior swordsmanship is a sly bit of casting.
Heather Ayers, who last year played opposite Innvar on this same stage in The Game, strikes a good balance between the love struck, naive young Roxanne and the maturer, wiser woman who would have seen the beauty of spirit in Cyrano had he not condemned them both to an only partially realized relationship. Dylan Fergus' Christian is supposed to be good-looking but doltish but it wouldn't have hurt for him to exude a little more sex appeal. Despite feeling under the weather at the opening performance, Mark H. Dold gave a strong performance as Count deGuiche, Cyrano's rival for Roxanne's affection. He makes a believable transition from an aristocrat whose arrogant sense of entitlement has him recklessly send his men into a battle into a more sympathetic character.
With so many young Americans currently felled on foreign soil and a political campaign where the willingness to be a soldier as well as a commander-in-chief is a much discussed issue, the second act's big battle scene does indeed tend to hit home in new ways. While Ms. Boyd's directorial notes talk about Cyrano's relevance as a man of integrity in a world increasingly bereft of this virtue, the heroism of fighting duels and and killing enemies in war is hardly something to celebrate. Another more amusing connection not made in previous Cyrano viewings comes during the famous balcony scene. As Cyrano, hidden behind a leaf-covered fence, prompts the language challenged Christian to mouthe the words Roxanne wants to hear, one can't help but think of the obvious reliance on teleprompters and speech writers by the likes of George W. Bush.
The play has too large a cast to comment on all the performances. All are excellent and the ensemble work of the fencing and battle scenes is especially impressive. Jeff Croiter's lighting and Michael Anania's weathered wood unit set bet the play's many scene shifts. Natasha Landau's costumes are generally true to the play's 18th century time frame -- with the exception of the generic black leather look of the soldiers which underscores the sense of the bleakness and destruction that is the style no matter where or when the battle.
Today cosmetic surgery for fixing self-image destroying physical abnormalities is readily available, and women no longer retreat to convents but tend to find more positive ways to deal with grief. Thus, Cyrano de Bergerac is basically escape fare and Ms. Boyd's talented actors and creative team make it fun to spend a few hours in the by-gone world of Edmond Rostand's fictional super hero. By all means, see it before the Consolati Performing Arts Center goes back to being a high school -- where Cyrano de Bergerac may well be used as a text by English teachers to explore its depiction of romantic love, an independent spirit and the power of language.
Frank Langella's Cyrano de Bergerac -- Brian Hooker translation
Cyrano de Bergerac, adapted by Derek Mahon (London)
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