Play: “Cyrano de Bergerac”
Group: St. Louis Shakespeare
Venue: Lee Auditorium, Missouri History Museum, Lindell at DeBaliviere
Dates: March 17, 18, 19, 20
Tickets: $15-$25; contact 314-361-5664 or www.stlshakespeare.org
Story: Based very loosely on the life of 17th century French duelist/soldier/poet/dramatist Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, this play written by Edmond Rostand in 1897 tells the story of Cyrano’s undying love for his beautiful cousin Roxane. It’s a love he dare not admit to her, since he is plagued by self-doubts because of his overly large nose, a frequent subject of ridicule among his contemporaries. Cyrano dispenses with most of his scorners in deadly fashion, slicing them up with his expert swordplay.
However, when Roxane sends her servant, the Duenna, to summon Cyrano, he is temporarily elated until Roxane tells him of her love for a handsome young soldier named Christian de Neuvillette. Christian also loves Roxane, but cannot express his desires eloquently. He turns to Cyrano for help, and the latter woos Roxane on Christian’s behalf by writing her poetic letters and then by supplying the words as Christian speaks to her below her balcony.
When the military leader Le Compte de Guiche sees Roxane, he also desires her, but is tricked by Roxane, who orchestrates a speedy marriage to Christian. De Guiche promptly sends Christian, Cyrano and their brigade into war against the Spanish, but Cyrano promises Roxane that he will watch over Christian and do his best to keep him safe, still maintaining secrecy about his own love for her.
Highlights: “Cyrano de Bergerac” has been staged probably hundreds of times since Rostand’s work first was published, including many famous versions such as Jose Ferrer’s Tony Award and Academy Award winning efforts, Steve Martin’s comedy adaptation, “Roxane,” and a 2007 Broadway revival with Kevin Kline. It features a juicy title role coveted for its combination of unrequited romance and broad swashbuckling swordplay.
Donna Northcott, founder and artistic director of St. Louis Shakespeare, long has admired Rostand’s epic saga, and has finally produced her own version in her company’s 26th season. She couldn’t have picked a better local actor to take on the title role than Todd Gillenardo, who not only handles the part with his accomplished aplomb but doubles superbly as the production’s stage combat choreographer. Gillenardo’s fight scenes are fluidly realistic, adding a magician’s touch to gracefully depict myriad combat scenes with efficiency and elan.
He convincingly conveys Cyrano’s undying love for his beloved Roxane as well as the self-loathing that causes him to seek quick revenge for any reference, cruel or slight, to his elongated nose, ironically a subject for Cyrano’s own comedy. Gillenardo handles Rostand’s poetry as smoothly as his character’s heroic actions.
Other Info: Director Northcott assembles a sprawling cast that does fine work in supporting the title performer, but her langorous presentation could benefit by amping up the action and dropping 15 minutes or so from its present two hours and 45 minutes in two acts. When action is absent, this “Cyrano” can get very talky very quickly.
Andrea Purnell makes for a delightful Roxane, embracing her character’s beauty as well as her independence and ingenuity. She’s a good match for Gillenardo, and additionally plays well opposite Casey Boland, who is fine as the tongue-tied Christian, albeit a relatively minor turn.
There’s also splendid work by Aaron Orion Baker as the amiable but failed baker/businessman Rageuneau and Ben Ritchie as Cyrano’s loyal comrade LeBret, while Donna Postel is sure and steady as the Duenna and an amiable nun. Tom Kopp is accomplished in the role of Le Comte de Guiche, dialing down the part’s overt villainy to deliver a convincing performance beyond caricature.
The energetic band of soldiers, actors, townsfolk et al includes Roger Erb, Mike Juncal, Christina Rios, Tim Callahan, Jason Puff, Aaron Dodd, Greg Fenner, Emily Jackoway, Candice Jeanine, Wes Jenkins, Devon Norris, Joshua Nash Payne, Jaime Zayas Perez and Eric White.
Christie Johnston’s set design incorporates three background areas that serve suitably for scenes ranging from the balcony speech to a stage for a Parisian performance to battlements under siege, allowing room for fight scenes up front. Justine Brock’s lighting is highlighted by the soft shade underscoring the balcony scene, and Jeff Roberts’ sound design is effectively low-key. L.D. Lawson provides various props, and the handsome period costumes are designed by Northcott with assistance from Liz Henning and Michele Friedman Siler.
I’ve never seen a production of “Cyrano” in any form prior to this. While comparisons are therefore not possible, what can be said is that this version of “Cyrano” does a fine job overall of telling a very famous story.
Rating: A 4 on a scale of 1-to-5.