The mythic attraction of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac, with all its fabulous excess, is so enduring because we’d like it to be true to life — at least while we’re swept up in its sword-clashing melodrama. Wit, skill, and honorable idealism appreciated and ultimately rewarded? Isn’t it pretty to think so?
GIFT OF GAB: Hantman emotes while Sullivan looks on.
Trinity Repertory Company pumps up the volume on Anthony Burgess’s honey-tongued verse translation/adaptation in the upstairs theater (through June 11). Director Amanda Dehnert isn’t missing an antic opportunity to entertain or impress, just like the eponymous 17th-century swashbuckler.
What’s not to appreciate and root for with the dashing, if top-heavy, hero? Cyrano (Mauro Hantman) is the most capable and adventurous of the aristocratic royal guard. When he first appears at a theater performance, his reputation preceding him like a trumpeting herald, he comes across like a boor, shooing a bad actor off the stage at sword point. But, we soon see, he is not so much obnoxious as impetuously high-minded, tossing his month’s pay to the company manager for his whim. “Excess is not excessive when it is conceived of on principle,” he later explains. As for the enemies he collects by trying to reshape the world at rapier-point, he asserts that “hate is a heat that disinfects my soul.” You gotta love him.
How psychologically on the money, up to date in this century-old play. Cyrano rejects his detractors before they can reject him for the matter that truly wounds him. He’s well aware that, as he puts it, “This nose precedes me by a quarter of an hour . . . .” Self-effacement is his protection figuratively since he can’t do so literally. Dueling someone who witlessly insults him, Cyrano suggests a string of worthier repartees, such as that his nose would provide a generous perch for passing birds or could be employed as artillery to blast the enemy.
The oblivious, sublimated center of all this passion is Roxane, played with spirited flair by Angela Brazil. A playmate in childhood and still a friend, she has no idea that he longs for her but won’t even hint at that because he considers himself grotesque. Leching after her is Cyrano’s nemesis, the Compte de Guiche, whom Fred Sullivan Jr. makes a meal of in all but mustachio-twiddling excess. But the real competition is a new member of the Gascon guards, the handsome Christian de Neuvillette (Noah Brady). He and Roxane are mutually smitten, and Cyrano’s promising her to protect him makes for a very funny scene, where a baited Cyrano has to feign admiring his provocative daring instead of slicing him into chops.
As every schoolboy (and Steve Martin fan) knows, as Roxane and Christian keep their distance, Cyrano romances her through lyrically adoring letters supposedly from his rival, even speaking for him from the shadows beneath her balcony. Rostand actually makes this plausible, by having Cyrano think of his heartfelt way with words and Christian’s dumb good looks making for a complete person worthy of her. Cyrano’s prowess is ludicrously overwritten, with his dispatching not just a bunch of thugs lying in wait but no less than a hundred. Yet Hantman gives us a crucially well-rounded performance, providing the twinkle-eyed hero with a soulful sensitivity latent in every glib jest.