Cyrano de Bergerac
Also see Sharon's review of Tabletop
Can a single misplayed scene doom what is otherwise a solid three hours of theatre? When the play is Cyrano de Bergerac, and the scene is the climax on the battlefield, it sadly can.
And the play was going so well. Director Mark Rucker smoothly led his cast through Anthony Burgess’s elegant and hilarious translation of Rostand’s script, making it play equally in romance, comedy and tragedy. From the opening scene, in which Rucker deftly handles some awkward exposition, South Coast Repertory’s production seemed in capable hands.
To be fair, Mark Harelik started off a little slow - not quite larger than life enough to fill Cyrano’s nos-, er, shoes. But once he got going, he certainly seemed up to the task. Harelik’s Cyrano is charismatic, smooth, and witty - but also self-pitying and full of doubt when it comes to the idea of ever being loved. Harelik plays up the comedy in the balcony scene, where Cyrano woos his love in another man’s name; but, for a moment, he reads the poetry so beautifully, and with such soul-baring truth, the audience wouldn’t dare laugh. And Harelik is at his best when the script is in verse. Rather than being constrained by the meter, or trying to overcome archaic text with modern speech patterns, Harelik makes the verse his friend, holding for a beat or emphasizing an arch rhyme, resulting in a Cyrano bursting with intelligence.
As his Roxane, Susannah Schulman makes it very clear why this woman is admired by so many men. She’s charming, delightful, and possessed of a beauty which very nearly glows. Schulman also plays Roxane’s flaws, which are necessary for the play to work. Her Roxane is very young, easily enamored by a pretty face - and more so by a pretty word. While Schulman’s Roxane ultimately shows true depth, her early scenes are of a giddy young woman first experiencing puppy love.
Ryan Bittle plays Christian, the third player in this love triangle, and he, too, starts off brilliantly. Thanks again to some fine direction, Christian is established early as a good guy; he’s a good fighter with a good heart. And although he not the wordsmith Cyrano is, Bittle’s Christian is by no means a moron.
With all this going for it, the production seems destined for greatness - a solid cast, well-directed, working with a wonderful translation of a classic play. And it is going well, through the theatre scene, the pastry shop, the balcony scene, and the bulk of the scene on the battlefield. And there, moments before the Gascony cadets will face an attack, and Roxane has come to see Christian (who has sent her so many letters), the play inexplicably falls apart. The scene ends with Cyrano attempting to tell Roxane the truth about his authorship of the letters, but being interrupted. Cyrano’s expression of dismay, “I can’t finish it now,” comes much too fast. It is almost as if Cyrano knows, going into his conversation with Roxane, that he must get the truth out before he is stopped, and once he is stopped, he whines that he has lost his opportunity. But this moment is what the play is all about. Cyrano can’t know when he begins to speak that he might be unable to finish. It must instead be a horrifying tragic revelation: Cyrano must first realize that he is on the brink of having Roxane’s heart, and then - when he is interrupted - the audience must see his heartbreaking discovery that he can never have her. The speed with which Harelik rushes through this moment destroys it, and lessens the play.
Nor is Cyrano the only character disserved by the pace of this scene. The character of Christian also has a defining moment which is taken from him in this production. Christian must come to realize that the deception he and Cyrano played worked a disservice to him as well as the others. Christian is a good man, with integrity, and his tossing aside of the charade must not be merely a gift to Cyrano, but an act of being true to himself. In this production, Christian’s key line contains none of this, and instead simply gets a laugh.
There is a very nearly wonderful production of Cyrano going on here, but without reworking the end of revelation scene, the heart of the play is surprisingly absent.
Cyrano de Bergerac plays through June 27, 2004 at South Coast Repertory. For tickets and information, see www.scr.org.
South Coast Repertory -- David Emmes, Producing Artistic Director; Martin Benson, Artistic Director -- presents Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand; translated and adapted by Anthony Burgess. Scenic Design Riccardo Hernandez; Costume Design Shigeru Yaji; Lighting Design Chris Parry; Original Music and Sound Design Steven Cahill; Fight Choreographers Daniel R. Forcey/Aaron Angello; Production Manager Tom Aberger; Stage Manager Scott Harrison. Directed by Mark Rucker. Honorary Producers Barbara and William Roberts; Corporate Producer Haskell & White LLP.