Cyrano de Bergerac
This worthy production of Rostand's play reveals the rock star in its romantic hero
Reviewed by Elizabeth Cobbe, Fri., Feb. 20, 2009
Cyrano de Bergerac
Mary Moody Northen Theatre, through Feb. 22
Running time: 3 hr
Cyrano de Bergerac demands a lot. At the top of the show, as the audience tries to acclimate itself to the verse and speech and costumes with frilly lace, lots of things happen that strike at
the heart of the play and the character who rules it. The people of 1640 Paris have come to the theatre to watch a play. They gossip before the show as they bump in to friends and share a laugh at the expense of one Monsieur Cyrano de Bergerac (the excellent David M. Long), a poet and soldier with a witty attitude bigger than his legendarily long nose. No sooner has the play-within-a-play started than Cyrano puts a halt to the action, kicks the objectionable actor offstage, pays off the company, and slays the man who challenges him. It's a busy 10 minutes.
The 1987 movie Roxanne may have popularized the story of Cyrano, but it never gets across the depth of feeling and contradiction within the character, the man who uses bravado to fend off the mere possibility of rejection, who pre-empts mockery with his rapier. We learn that Cyrano has spent his entire monthly income to pay off the players, to make a spectacle in his favor. The prospect of starvation is worth it. He prefers to live in poverty for the sake of what he calls "freedom" – the freedom to say and do as he wishes, no matter how many enemies he collects.
He collects a lot.
Michelle Polgar directs this three-hour symphony of language with skill. While a large company is hard to manage with consistency, watch at the edges for little gems, such as a pilfered bread roll or a quiet game of cards.
The greatest moments in this Cyrano come when characters square off against one another; when Cyrano's companion, Le Bret (Greg Holt), pleads with him to watch his step; or when Christian (a talented Christopher Smith), Cyrano's rival for the love of Roxane (Julia Trinidad), begins to question Cyrano's unflagging enthusiasm for writing his love letters for him. Through these moments we see both Cyrano's self-destruction and his knack for winning fights at impossible odds.
In Austin, this city of a thousand rock stars, Cyrano is a familiar character type, for all that the play about him was written more than 100 years ago. The mirrors scattered across Stephen Pruitt's set suggest as much. While much of Austin does its best to live life decently and by the rules, there are also those here who throw aside health insurance, retirement accounts, and rent money in favor of living freely. Like Cyrano, they are awesome to watch, even as they collapse in the end.
If you hadn't guessed by now, I'm biased. I adore Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac and, in particular, the Anthony Burgess translation that is used for this Mary Moody Northen Theatre production. Cyrano's penchant for self-sabotage hits home for anyone who has ever wanted something greater than to be average.
Try to see through my bias, however. This is a production worth seeing.