The Charms of “Cyrano”
“A great nose is the banner of a great man, a generous heart, a towering spirit, an expansive soul!” – and, as it turns out, a great play as well. Ranjit Bolt’s new translation of Edmond Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” opened this weekend at the Claire Trevor School of the Arts, bringing with it all the excitement of sword fighting, love, a large nose and finely tuned comedic timing. Directed by Beth Gardiner, MFA directing student ,“Cyrano” is a production sure to satisfy audiences from start to finish.
At times, “Cyrano” is lighthearted, adventurous, swoon-worthy and heartbreakingly sad, but the overarching feeling that persists throughout the show is a good one. The cast and crew come together to foster the play’s characteristic humor, romance and spectacle —nay, panache.
“Cyrano” tells a classic story of unrequited love against the backdrop of 17th century France. Our lanky hero, Cyrano, is a charming man of many talents including dueling, poetry and philosophy. However, his crippling self-consciousness stemming from his unsightly nose keeps him from expressing his love to the beautiful Roxanne, who falls for the dimwitted, pretty-boy Christian. Together they come up with the plan to use Christian’s good looks and Cyrano’s wit to woo Roxanne.
Overall, the production boasts a strong, competent cast. The play is written in rhyming couplets and the actors move through the dialogue with natural ease. Each actor pulls their weight with beautiful comedic timing and delivery to the effect of a very cohesive performance with no weak links.
As the leads, MFA students Ryan Imhoff (Cyrano) and Nicole Erb (Roxanne) embody their roles with great ability. Imhoff pulls off Cyrano with all the grace, humor and pathos required and infuses the character with a distinctly likeable personality. Erb’s Roxanne is lively, lovely and full of wit, just as the character calls for.
The supporting cast is also clearly talented. MFA student Sage Howard takes on the re-imagined role of La Bret (an originally male character) and performs with humor and heart. Her relationship with Cyrano, as his best friend, is clear and believable.
Another notable performance is undergraduate Marisa Baram’s dual performance as Roxanne’s companion, Duenna, and as Mother Marguerite. Though both roles are small, she charms the audience with every perfectly delivered line and inspires laughter and applause with nearly every word.
Though traditionally done on a Proscenium (or “picture frame”) stage, this production of “Cyrano” is done in the round with members of the intimate 80-person audience sitting on all sides while the action takes place in the center. Whether this was an intentional decision or a way to best utilize the Studio Theater’s limited space, the stage design worked surprisingly well.
The audience is placed very close to the action, often times with actors standing directly in front of or next to them. There is an element of feeling like a part of the play, which the actors play with, occasionally beckoning toward the audience to bring them into the action. However, a shortcoming of this is the high visibility of potential mistakes. Despite this, the cast works through stumbles and prop mishaps with poise. The actors make this shortcoming a benefit by infusing the action with small moments of physical comedy, sweet gestures and nuanced interactions between each other that would have been lost in any other stage design.
Going into a classic play like “Cyrano,” everyone expects lavish costumes – hoopskirts, corsets, extravagant collars, doublets, boots and feathered hats – and the costume crew meets these expectations beautifully. Opulent colors and textures combine together with well-executed period dress to cement the stylistic integrity of “Cyrano,” just as it has been performed since the very beginning. Cyrano de Bergerac borders on escapist with its Baroque setting, heart-wrenching romance and crowd-pleasing comedy. It’s an all-around fun show and a playful feeling resounds throughout. Gardiner’s words sum it up best: “Cyrano de Bergerac dares us to imagine what it would be like to believe in an ideal – love, or perhaps honor, friendship, the power of art.”
Overall, Gardiner’s vision is strong. The love and care put into “Cyrano” by everyone involved is apparent. With a talented cast, beautiful costume and set design and interesting staging decisions, “Cyrano” is likely to be remembered as one of the best productions of the year.