TheatreWorks brings us the regional premiere of a new translation of Edmond Rostand's classic play, "Cyrano," breathing fresh life into the enduring tale of unrequited love. Strikingly modern in some scenes and for some characters, the translation and adaptation by Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner still retains the poetic feel of the original, while avoiding rhymed couplets except for emphasis. Given new language, superb production values, and an excellent ensemble, this "Cyrano" swashes cross the wide Mountain View stage with style and panache, proving again why we love the witty rogue.
First written and performed in 1897, Rostand's tale has been translated and adapted numerous times, into plays, movies, ballet, opera and even comic books. Brave, daring and witty leader of the Gascony Guard Cyrano de Bergerac (here played by J. Anthony Crane) is cursed with a large nose, but compensates with intelligence and erudition, and is valued as a true and loyal friend by Ragueneau the Baker (Christopher Rebar) and Le Bret (Michael Gene Sullivan). His guardsmen both revere and fear him, for his prowess with the sword is as renowned as his nose is big, and he's quick to eliminate his enemies with little provocation.
Hopelessly smitten with the beautiful Roxane (Sharon Rietkerk), Cyrano admires her from a distance (even though they grew up together), certain that she could never love an unattractive man. When Roxane asks to see him, his heart leaps with hope but crashes again when she reveals that she has fallen for a new guardsman, Christian (Chad Deverman), and seeks Cyrano's help in protecting him from the usual hazing of new recruits. She also wants Christian to begin a clandestine correspondence, hoping he will speak of love to her.
Christian indeed loves Roxane but knows he is not blessed with the art of language, and so despairs -- until Cyrano convinces him that they can woo Roxane together. He will write the letters for Christian that will win her heart. Thus begins the central plot device, one that will unfold with amusing and then devastating consequences for all involved.
Rostand elevates his tale to more than one of deception and unrequited love, however, and Hollinger and Posner give Cyrano modern dialogue that highlights his true condition -- his cowardice. Cyrano's bravado hides a raging fire of insecurity, his conviction that no one could ever love him, certainly not the beautiful Roxane; so he languishes behind a mask, never revealing himself until too late. In a sense, all three main characters wear masks, to others and to themselves as well, ensuring their failure to find what they seek. This timeless caution still speaks to a modern audience, urging us to shed our own disguises in pursuit of our heart's desire.
The ensemble is truly up to the formidable action of the play, enlivening witty dialogue with superb comic skills and excellent swordplay (directed by Jonathan Rider). Reber, Stephen Muterspaugh, Kit Wilder, Darren Bridgett and Monica Cappuccini all play several roles to great effect; Bridgett makes a great drunk; Wilder capers from fighting fop to Gascony guard; Cappuccini runs the gamut from groundling to nun, particularly fun as Roxane's duenna; and Muterspaugh amuses as a hapless theatre producer. Peter James Meyers inhabits the somewhat thankless role of De Guiche, Roxane's would-be suitor, with aplomb and gravitas, managing some sympathy by the end. Sullivan narrates our tale and props up Cyrano when needed, and Reber gets in some good zingers as the sidekick.
Deverman delights as the youthful guardsman, by turns brave or bumbling when faced with a fray or a "real girl." Crane is marvelously matched to the character of Cyrano, alternating fluidly between melancholy and anger, hope and despair, all the while philosophizing in witty metaphors. He wears the confidence of a master swordsman well, and yet reveals his self-doubt with aching vulnerability. Reitkerk is suitably saucy and demanding, utterly believable in the varied phases of Roxane's growth.
Joe Ragey's gorgeous sets not only give us numerous locations, they make use of the wide stage in an epic sweep of fabric, romantic moonshine, and autumn leaves, conjuring a fantastic, fabled journey, a story in time and space rather than mired in pedantic reality -- so gloriously fitting for the larger-than-life character of Cyrano, the epic sweep of his timeless tale. Costumes by Fumiko Bielefeldt and lighting by Pamila Z. Gray beautifully enhance the overall spectacle of the show. At times it was difficult to hear actors, even though they were miked; especially true of Reitkerk and Crane, this was a puzzling and frustrating distraction.
Despite the new translation, the play feels a little creaky in sections that have always been problematic, particularly the last scene that goes on for days. But "Cyrano" continues to live in our collective cultural mind for good reason, and this production gives us great proof of why.
What: "Cyrano," presented by TheatreWorks
Where: Mountain View Center for Performing Arts, 500 Castro St., Mountain View
When: Through May 1, with 7:30 p.m. shows Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays, and 7 p.m. Sundays
Cost: Tickets range from $25 to $80.
Info: Go to Theatreworks or call 650-463-1960.