Cyrano de Bergerac
Mr. Gillenardo is (as always) a fierce comic genius, and Andrea Purnell somehow exists in her own delightfully gay operetta as Roxane, the girl both men adore. This Christian is redeemed from utter witlessness in a sudden flash of romantic nobility on the field of battle. But it's important to note that it does take an hour and five minutes to get to that legendary scene where Ms. Purnell is up on the balcony, and the two men are below, when genuine, brittle comedy erupts like a spring storm. Until then, director/producer Donna Northcott keeps the important acting down-to-earth, while the French fops flutter, to get us to a visualization of the essential love triangle. But as this Cyrano raced to the balcony scene, thrashing his way through rivals and rhymed couplets, I finally had to throw up my hands and stop trying to dissect the double-speed verbiage, and rely instead on good clear acting and direction to tell the story, which (thankfully) they do.
The very strong cast boasts the unshakably naturalistic Ben Ritchie as Cyrano's side-kick, and the outstanding Tom Kopp as a villain to remember: suave, matter-of-fact, and unmistakably evil. Thanks to all of them, by the time everyone gets to the battlefront (against the Spaniards), we are swallowed up in this plush theatrical classic. Two outstanding voices in local theater, Donna Postel and Aaron Orion Baker add music to the sizzling pace set by their leading man: Ms. Postel being an immaculate performer, first as Roxane's nurse and later as the reverend mother of a French convent, and Mr. Baker as a heartbroken baker. Throw in Ms. Purnell's delicious, dulcet readings, and it's half-way to heaven, vocally.
The other part of that "ugly rumor" before the show was that director Northcott had come to her leading man, asking him to find a sizable chunk of lines that he'd be willing to cut. Rumor had it that, after being asked to choose his own cuts, he could only excise three minutes of rhymed couplets, overall. (I e-mailed the company asking about this, but received no reply by the time of my deadline).
So, here we are, with a super-qualified actor giving us a super-rushed first hour, and nearly 90% of all of his speeches smearing into an indecipherable blur. Thank goodness he gears down considerably once we get to the balcony scene, and blossoms into his own even-tempered magnificence from there on out. And, thank goodness, up till then (thanks to director Northcott and Mr. Gillenardo's own sizzling psychological acuity) the relationships and characters remain sharp and clear, as we traverse that first, over-packed hour.
Through March 20, 2011, at the Missouri History Museum, at Lindell and DeBaliviere, half-way across the north-side of Forest Park. For more information call (314) 746-4599, or visit the Museum on-line at www.mohistory.org.
Photo by Kim Carlson