Sunday, August 04, 2002

Cyrano de Bergerac

A cast of thousands (or so it seemed), a monumental set, enough on-stage food to feed Davis Community Meals for at least one night, wonderfully directed swordplay, and one very long nose.

This pretty well sums up Acme Theatre's opening night performance of Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac." "Acme's summer show is always a big production," writes director Dave Burmester. "It is a long-standing tradition that all those who audition for the summer production are cast."

Therein lies the strength--and the weakness--of this production. To dispose of the weaknesses quickly, with a cast this large (there are 50+ members in the cast and among them, they play120 different roles), the difference between the "seasoned performers" and the less experienced is quite apparent in a production where it seems everyone has lines to say.

This is a very wordy play, and it's a pity that far too many of the lines were rushed and/or spoken too softly to make it past the third row, if that far.

That said, let's concentrate on the strengths. For starters, Nick Herbert, in the title role, will leave you slack-jawed in amazement. It's not enough that this actor has a veritable encyclopedia of lines to memorize and delivers them flawlessly (at least to those without a script in hand--if he had any flubs, they were not apparent), but he acted the heck out of the part and brought tears by his death in the end. He well deserved the standing ovation he received.

The play is fictionalized account, based on a real 17th century French writer and playwright notorious for his many duels and escapades as well as a famous nose. There are duels aplenty in this production, and Burmester credits the expertise of one of Acme's newest members, Nick Bettencourt, for helping to choreograph the swordplay.

There is no opening curtain, so as the audience arrives, they are witness to characters wandering around on the enormous stage, designed by Steven Schmidt. "It is more impressive by the fact that six days before the show opened, the structure was a jumble of elements waiting on the scene dock for the stage to become available," says Burmester. A multi-level set, with the addition of tables or drapes or arches, it easily becomes a Paresian hotel, a pastry shop, a home, or even a convent. This is Schmidt's last year with Acme and he will be missed.

A play is about to begin at the Hotel de Borgone. The players are awaiting the arrival of the playwright, Cyrano. On the stage, pageboys are playing pranks, important people are looking important, musketeers play fight, while waiting for the entertainment to begin. We also meet the tavern-keeper, Ragueneau (a strong, sparkling performance to retiring Acme stalwart Chris Schmidt).

The lovely Roxanne is beautifully portrayed by Kathie German. Roxanne is the love interest of Christian (Brian Oglesby), a handsome young baron, come to Paris to join the army.

Unbeknownst to all save his confidante LeBret (Steven Schmidt), Cyrano is also hiding a secret love for Roxanne (his cousin), but his insecurities, and concern about his appearance, prevent him from speaking words of love to her.

When Roxanne confesses to Cyrano, her attraction for Christian and asks him to become the protector of the younger man, Cyrano agrees, out of his own unspoken love for Roxanne.

The meeting of the two prompts one of the more delightful moments of the script, where they trade quips about Cyrano's most prominent feature. However, Cyrano befriends the young man and, realizing that Christian is not gifted with words, agrees to help the young suitor court Roxanne.

In one of the most famous scenes from the play, Cyrano first whispers the words for Christian to speak to Roxanne, on her balcony, and then steps in and replaces the young man, standing in the shadows, to speak his own words of love for the girl, in Christian's name. The scene is both funny and touching, as Cyrano, having expressed with passion his own love and feelings, is left in the shadows while Christian, by force of Cyrano's words, wins the love of Roxanne. Cyrano then arranges for the couple to be married and in doing so annoys his other rival De Guiche (Jake Stoebel).

Immediately after the wedding, the regiment is sent to war against the Spaniards. Cyrano promises Roxanne that he will be certain that Christian writes to her from the front and, of course, he himself pens the letters, risking his life twice a day to post them to her.

When Christian is killed in battle, he dies with a farewell note to Roxanne in his pocket. The young widow enters a convent, where she spends the next two decades of her life, visited daily by Cyrano who never reveals to her the real author of the words she loved so much.

This is a monumental production, effectively staged by the ever-solid Acme Theatre Company. It is not without minor flaws, but the whole definitely outweighs any shortcomings.

No comments: