Regional Reviews: San Jose/Silicon Valley
Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner have adapted the original Cyrano de Bergerac to a shortened-in-title (but not in its 150-minute length) Cyrano, with a cast of nine instead of two-plus dozen and a script of modern yet still poetic prose instead of rhymed couplets. Joe Ragey's somewhat austere but highly flexible backstage scenic design and Fumiko Bielefeldt's mixture of modern and period dress support and augment director Robert Kelley's decision to bring this tale of old into today's realm while retaining just enough of the seventeenth century charm, swagger, and (dare I say) "panache" to remind us of the story's origins.
The result is a production that both soars in its imaginative staging and excellent acting and bogs down in between its glorious peaks into a turtle-like pace and a pouring out of so many words that the audience's retained attention is challenged. Certainly there are a number of moments when writers, director, and actors score big hits. Cyrano's brash interruption of a local play leads to a string of sniffer stings from a miffed, foppish patrician De Valvert ("One sneeze and good-bye Belgium"); and the subsequent swordplay is nothing short of high hilarity. A later encounter between Cyrano and a hundred hiding, brandishing bullies becomes a fight director's (Jonathan Rider) dream as six actors suddenly become five score in ways that must be seen to be appreciated. And a scene in which both director and actors pull out enough stops to call for award-deserving recognition is the famous balcony encounter where Cyrano feeds words of woo into the waiting and desperate, lovesick, but language-short Christian. As both men look longingly upward to the beautiful Roxanne, the interplay of the love triangle is a combination of fun and pathos as the adored maiden falls in love with the words of the long-nosed hidden one, assuming they come from the moving mouth of the handsome one seen.
And yet, despite these and other fine moments of stage-filled swashbuckling, good-natured ribbing among soldiery fellows, and hide-and-seek attempts of love expressing and lovemaking, there are other times throughout the production when the energy just gained is suddenly lost for hard to pinpoint reasons. Sometimes, it feels the intoxicating language of the play just needs some editing to be shorter in numbers of sentences at any one juncture. At other times, a scene like the pre-battle wait of hungered and weary soldiers does in fact seem to go on all night before the dawn's off-stage clash. And the final scene of a wounded Cyrano and his long-loved Roxannewhen all too late becomes tragically clearloses some of its potential in emotional impact by there just being too many others in the scene. (Why does the weeping baker all of a sudden appear, and why is so much attention given to the attending nun?).
J. Anthony Crane takes a role donned by many a famous actor for over a hundred years (José Ferrer, Richard Chamberlain, Christopher Plummer, and Kevin Kline just to mention a few) and gives us a Cyrano to remember. With a braggart's boldness, he challenges with light-hearted contempt not only his entire garrison but also the whole audience to a duel. ("Raise your hand if you want to die," he shouts with bluster.) He contrasts that with the self-conscious Cyrano who forlornly admits to his good friend and only confidant Le Bret (the well-cast Michael Gene Sullivan), "I've past many a long night with just me and my loneliness." All of our own lists of surely-seen-by-others, personal shortcomings flash before us as we hear this man of so much proven wit and wisdom surrender to the obvious: "I love a Cleopatra, (but) do I look like a Julius Caesar to you?" Equally able to play a guitar and sing rousing songs (original words and music by Michael Hollinger), to engage in furiously fast footwork required of his many sword encounters, and to recite disguised in front of a giant moon words of poetic love as a Romeo to his unsuspecting Juliet, J. Anthony Crane does in fact take his place as a Cyrano to be loved by all.
As Roxanne, Sharon Rietkerk (recently seen in acclaimed TheatreWorks' productions of Jane Austin's Emma and Triangle) too shows an impressive range of acting abilities. While she can pose with coy and cuteness on a balcony in a manner that would turn many a soldier's eye, she can also be calculatingly sly in dealing with an unwanted suit by a Count or outwardly blunt to her would-be lover when his spoken words do not match those in his letters ("I beg you for cream and you give me milk"). When she shows up on a battlefield in a soldier's garb, this Roxanne also displays credible moxie of brave spirit, sensuous greetings to her long-lost betrothed, and heartbreaking shock and sadness of his demise.
The third leg of this famous love triangle is fulfilled with striking self-assurance by Chad Deverman as Christianfull of confidence, that is, until he has to open his mouth in front of his beloved. "I love you ... a ... a lot" is about all he can initially sputter to the surprised Roxanne who is awaiting the flowing phrases so easily put to paper for him by Cyrano who has told him, "I'll be a book, and you my cover." That cover works from afar or when in impassioned embraces, but this Christian becomes almost a desperate clown in his looks of wide-eyed fright and moves of a teenage boy when he believes he might actually have to say something to Roxanne.
Other than Mr. Crane, the rest of this cast each assume a major part of the story and also quickly switch persona and costumes to play other parts as townspeople, soldiers, actors, and passers-by. Darren Bridgett is a stumbling drunk and bad actor named Ligniere, who in silly red feathers is shooed off the stage by an annoyed, sword-swinging Cyrano. Peter James Meyers is the pompous Count, both sleazy and silly in his own pursuit of Roxanne. Kit Wilder is the aristocrat De Valvert that Fumiko Bielefeldt dresses in all the excessive buttons, bows, and gloves that he ridicules Cyrano for not wearing and is the victim of Cyrano's sword after De Valvert throws out one too many snout snits.
The aforementioned Michael Gene Sullivan is stalwart in his devotion and almost fatherly counsel to Cyrano; Stephen Muterspaugh, the worried-about-revenues theatre owner Bellerose; and Christopher Reber, the town's bustling baker. Finally, Monica Cappuccini is especially noteworthy as the eagle-eyed nanny Lucille, who zooms in with delightful vengeance on all of Roxanne's pursuing lovers and may in her telling glances be the one of the few who knows all along what is truly deep within the heart of Cyrano.
While a few more actors might give this Cyrano some of its occasional missing zip, this pared-down cast certainly works hard to give full justice to the script of Messieurs Hollinger and Posner. TheatreWorks Silicon Valley is to be commended for reminding its audience why so many of us have long been devotees of this man named de Bergerac who prompts us to remember that an imperfect, outward appearance is truly only skin deep and that kind-heartedness, intellect, wit, and a flair for living are the real traits key for attraction.
Cyrano continues through May 1, 2016, in its TheatreWorks Silicon Valley production at the Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View. Tickets are available online at www.theatreworks.org or by calling 650-463-1960 Monday-Friday, 11 a.m. 6 p.m. and Saturday-Sunday, noon-6 p.m.