Cyrano - Gloucester Stage Company
Cyrano – Gloucester Stage Company
Review by James Wilkinson
Cyrano presented by Gloucester Stage Company. Written by Jason O’Connell and Brenda Withers. Directed by Robert Walsh. Scenic Design: Jenna McFarland Lord. Lighting Design: Russ Swift. Costume Design: Elisabetta Polito. Properties Design: Emme Shaw. Sound Design: David Wilson. Right Direction: Robert Walsh.
There’s a good chance that you know more of the story of Cyrano de Bergerac than you think you do. While the title of the original French play may be unfamiliar to some, the basic premise of the story has been riffed and parodied through various forms of media all the way down to multi-cam sitcoms. You’ll even find its fingerprints all over the tropes and clichés of many of today’s romantic comedies. I’ve have never had the opportunity or inclination to read the original play and was surprised to find how much of the plot that I already knew. The fact that we keep coming back to Edmond Rostand’s tale of the nobleman with the elongated nostrils and his unrequited love implies that there’s something mythic expressed within it, some essential truth we need to tap into. Gloucester Stage Company is currently presenting a new attempt to bring the story of Cyrano de Bergerac to modern audiences. Under the shortened title, Cyrano, the adaptation by Jason O’Connell and Brenda Withers unleashes with a bang in this high energy production.
Just who is Cyrano de Bergerac you may ask? Well, if his resume is to be believed, he’s something of a 19th century rock star. A nobleman currently serving in the French army, he is beloved by just about everyone. He possesses an almost impossibly quick wit that he employs like a weapon. He is capable of conjuring rousing, poetic speech that brings the masses to their feet. He’s deft with a sword, able to take on and defeat a hundred adversaries. There is, however, one pointed problem (or so he thinks): his nose. He has an unusually long nose which he believes makes him so ugly that no woman could possibly love him. Certainly not his cousin Roxanne with whom he is hopelessly in love. One day, when Cyrano is convinced that he is about to learn that Roxanne shares his feelings for her, he is stunned to find out that she has fallen in love with another. Roxanne’s object of affection is Christian, a kind and earnest soldier who is incredibly handsome but who lacks Cyrano’s way with words. Cyrano resolves to do everything in his power to keep Roxanne happy, even if it includes giving his rival the words to woo his love.
O’Connell and Withers’ script essentially trims the fat from the original. As best as I can tell, (based on a skim of the Wikipedia summary), hits all of the same plot points, but pares down the scenes so that the play may be performed with as few as five actors. The language has been updated so that the characters speak in modern colloquialisms rather than the verse of the original play. They also appear to have added something of a ‘meta’ element to play, having the actors occasionally acknowledge the audience and perform it as something like a “show-within-a-show.”
It’s this meta element of the show that started the play off on the wrong foot for me. To prevent spoilers, I’ll limit my description to saying that there’s a moment of fourth-wall-breaking before the play begins properly. Others may feel differently, but the moment is played so realistically that when it’s revealed to be a gag, I didn’t feel relief, I felt tricked. It put my back up to such a degree that we were most of the way through the first act before I was able to properly settle into the story. I kept looking for a reason why the show began that way and was never able to really find a satisfactory answer.
It’s a shame, because looking at the production, there’s actually a lot of really good stagecraft at work here. The advertising of the show promises sword fighting and it delivers on that promise with an impressive extended fight scene curtesy of director/fight director Robert Walsh. Set Designer Jenna McFarland Lord delivers a puzzle box of a set that keeps opening and expanding to morph into new locations. Lighting designer Russ Swift sets the whole thing glowing. Costume Designer Elisabetta Polito’s costumes are gorgeous. Due to the limited cast, most of the actors are pulling triple and in some cases quadruple duty, playing a range of different characters. Yet even when the actors switch characters within the same scene, you never lose track of who is who. In fact, I think that it’s partly because the cast are swapping roles so frequently around each other that a kind of manic energy infects the production. The actors don’t so much play their roles as attack them.
Despite all of this good work, I have to say that I struggled to find something to hold onto with this production, a reason why all of this effort was being made. I think that part of the reason may be that I was never able to buy into the tragedy of the main character. The play positions the audience in such a way that we’re expected to find it devastating that Cyrano never gets to be with the one that he is in love with. However, Roxanne is never shown as viewing Cyrano as anything more than a close family friend. Surely Roxanne shouldn’t be expected to return Cyrano’s love solely because he wants her? I like to think of myself as a romantic (and God know that I, like most of the human race, know what it’s like to pine after someone), but I kept wanting to Cyrano to move on. There must be some other women in France, right? (I went there once in college, I know that I saw at least two or three). Setting up the central relationship the way that it does, with Cyrano as a king among men with low self-esteem, the play seems to want you to leave the theater saying “If only Cyrano had realized how wonderful he is and that looks don’t really matter. Then he could have had Roxanne from the start.” It’s an idea that I couldn’t quite run with.
There’s a part of me that wants to argue that this is supposed to be a comedy. So at the end of the day, as long as it’s funny, that’s all it needs to be. Again, there’s a great deal of madcap energy coming from all of the actors and a handful of playful comedic moments (particularly from Erin Nicole Washing and Paul Melendy) but despite this, the play never roused more than a few chuckles from me. However, I should say that I feel duty bound to report that I am in the minority on this. Much of the audience that I saw the show with laughed right through the show’s run time. It is entirely possible that I just wasn’t able to sink into it the way that they were. Cyrano de Bergerac’s tale of unrequited love is supposed to end in tragedy, but at the end all I could do was shrug.
Cyrano is presented by Gloucester Stage Company July 8-August 11, 2018.
For tickets and more information, visit their website: www.gloucesterstage.com