Cyrano at Trinity Rep, Heading for Eureka at Centastage
It’s hard to say which is bigger, Cyrano de Bergerac’s nose or his thesaurus. The swashbuckling swordsman of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 barnstormer Cyrano de Bergerac (at Trinity Repertory Company through June 11) is as renowned for his verbal panache as for his “peninsula” of a proboscis. But in Amanda Dehnert’s vigorous staging, the other capacious thing about Cyrano is his heart. Building on Anthony Burgess’s punchy if hyperbolic adaptation, Dehnert orchestrates a Cyrano that, if sometimes too broadly comic, preserves the delicacy of the hero’s unrequited love. Someone may drop a log on the poor guy’s head, disgorging a bit of his brain, but nothing can pull the beauteous Roxane from his heart, where she resides a perfect flower with the tenacity of a weed.
EXUBERANT: Mauro Hantman is a leaping, linguistically flashy Cyrano, and Angela Brazil is the starry-eyed Roxane.
At Trinity, Mauro Hantman is a leaping, linguistically flashy, but not oversized Cyrano, and Angela Brazil is a Roxane with as much snap as starriness in her eyes. If too much of a tongue-tied butt is made of Noah Brody’s “comely and dumb” Christian de Neuvillette, whose courtship of Roxane is ghost written by the Jimmy Durante of the love note, that’s only a problem in that it makes Brazil’s otherwise savvy Roxane seem as undiscerning as she is lively.
Rostand’s dashing if ugly hero has been a hit since his inception (getting Rostand early admission to the Académie française). His military fearlessness and romantic devotion have trickled down from José Ferrer to Derek Jacobi to Steve Martin to Gérard Depardieu. There isn’t much that’s subtle about Cyrano, but the play boasts both a verbal and emotional exuberance – and a heroism less compromised than what we’re used to today. Even the courtship-challenged Christian dies for his country, and in so doing he makes love’s martyr of Cyrano, who can no longer tell Roxane it was his words that, after Christian’s Brad Pitt countenance inspired a few palpitations, truly captured her heart.
“My success is achieved only by excess,” observes Rostand’s profile-challenged protagonist. The same could be said of the gifted Dehnert, who departs Trinity for a faculty position in musical theater at Northwestern University. Her productions are always vivid but extreme. (The portrayals here of Christian’s almost braying lunkheadedness, when temporarily deprived of Cyrano’s words, and of the Comte de Guiche’s randy villainy hit the brim if they don’t quite spill over the top.) But her Cyrano captures the floridness of the work without – and this is the finesse of it – running roughshod over the tenderness. In the famous balcony scene, in which Cyrano, under cloak of darkness, finally gets to declare his love without the middleman, you feel the transition from fluted wooing to heart’s truth.
As with The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Dehnert borrows theatrical conventions from Cyrano’s heyday. Mute, costumed stagehands hold up placards advising us to turn off our cell phones. And in the first scene, where Cyrano stops a ham from taking the stage, Tony-winning designer Eugene Lee’s set suggests the roughhewn artifice of some turn-of-the-20th-century playhouses (while providing railings that allow both Cyrano and Christian to engage in enthusiastic acrobatics of besottedness throughout). Between Dehnert and Lee, the old-fashioned melodrama moves smoothly, with one scene melting into the next as set changes become part of the choreography. For example, as we move from Roxane’s garden to the siege at Arras, the performers stack the furniture into a kind of barricade. Then, as we move across 15 years to the nunnery where Roxane retires to mourn her dead husband, Christian himself drags forward his tombstone. Never mind that nunneries don’t necessarily crop up in cemeteries; it works.
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