The Aquila Theater Company has arrived, swords in hand, to perform Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac at the Clark Studio in Lincoln Center. Once again, with imaginative puppets and actors playing multiple roles, they are able to present a play that calls for a large cast with only 10 actors. Does it work? Not always. Is it worth a visit? Definitely.
Anthony Cochrane, the Cyrano of this production, is an excellent actor with several years of Royal Shakespeare Company experience. He brings to his performance an ease with language that is essential to the role. He is at his best in the sincere emotions he shares with those on stage. His last scene with Roxanne is the most effective as it pulls the play together with its sad reflection on the dreams, choices and lost opportunities of life. However, if you love the swordplay and dexterous physicality usually associated with Cyranos on stage and in the movies, you will not see that here. No one leaps gracefully on a table sword in hand. It not only isn’t done, it’s difficult even to imagine this Cyrano as a swashbucker. This is not an agile, fleet-of-foot, larger-than-life Cyrano. It’s more of a grit your teeth and see it through Cyrano. Even the language in some of the scenes has a heaviness to it, with vulgarisms that Cyrano, a great poet as well as swordsman!, would most likely have shunned. This is not the speech nor action of someone with ”panache.”
Lisa Carter, a marvelous actress with this company, plays the lovely Roxanne with the same ease that she plays a crudely flirtatious baker’s wife, leaving the audience wondering if it could be the same actress. Is there any character that Ms. Carter can’t portray? I doubt it. Even when this adaptation of Cyrano seems to be careening in a farcical direction she holds onto the character of Roxanne and never lets the situation slip out of control.
In the supporting cast, Daniel Rappaport was very funny as the baker/poet friend of Cyrano. And the important role of Christian, Roxanne’s slightly dim-witted love interest, was played competently by Alvero Heinig.
The Aquila’s clever use of puppets fills the stage. First as the audience for the play within the play, and later as the hundred swordsmen who Cyrano must fight to defend his friend. It almost works. Still, Stan and I missed the graceful athleticism and pageantry of past Cyranos.
The Aquila Theater Company is walking a fine line. Their admirable goal is to present classic theater, with a joint American/Anglo cast, in exciting and innovative productions. Their most recent productions of The Comedy of Errors and The Illiad: Book One, respected the works themselves and the productions’ alterations and directorial choices complemented these masterpieces. In this Cyrano, however, there are times when the attempt to entertain seems to undermine the integrity of Rostand’s play. Still, at the most significant moments, the sad tale of unrequited love shines through.
Cyrano de Bergerac