Past Reviews

Regional Reviews: San Francisco/North Bay

Aurora Theatre Company
Review by Patrick Thomas

Also see Patrick's recent reviews of Poor Yella Rednecks, Home and English

Ron Campbell and William Thomas Hodgson
Photo by Kevin Berne
In a long ago interview with the author and activist James Baldwin, he spoke of his days in New York's gay bars. Being a less than conventionally handsome man, Baldwin found it not to be a problem, thanks to his charm and wit: "I can talk myself out of this face in 20 minutes," he said. I was reminded of this quote last night while enjoying Aurora Theatre Company's production of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano, adapted and directed by Aurora's artistic director, Josh Costello. For Cyrano de Bergerac (an actual historical figure of 17th century France) is the epitome of someone who could talk himself out of his face. Or, more specifically, his nose, for Cyrano was cursed/blessed with a rather formidable proboscis, a beak which he felt would prevent even the ugliest woman from falling in love with him, let alone the gorgeous and regal Roxane.

Rostand's play was a hit in France and has become a classic, with uncounted stage productions and multiple movie adaptations. It's easy to see why, for lovers of romance and chivalry will revel in the poetic language (the original is written in verse) and the tragic love story.

Costello's adaptation takes some liberties with Rostand's original, but the basic structure of the story remains: Cyrano (William Thomas Hodgson) is a cadet in the French army, in love with Roxane (Leontyne Mbele-Mbong), who has fallen for Christian (Steven Flores), a new cadet with a handsome face that disguises a rather dull intellect. "Bright, shiny eyes and a witless tongue," opines Cyrano. But combining Cyrano's way with words with Christian's looks will lead to Roxane falling hard for Christian. Cyrano thus aids Christian in wooing Roxanne–to the dismay of the Count de Guiche (Ron Campbell) and despite a warning from his friend Le Bret (Adrian Roberts) that he will anger the Count, who has the power to send Cyrano off to war.

There is lots of talk in Cyrano, as well as swordplay (wonderfully choreographed by fight director Dave Maier) and romance (monitored by intimacy choreographer Natalie Greene). All of it takes place on a set designed by Carlos Aceves, featuring a balcony with a spiral stair, set against a large golden disk, which in my imagination represents the plate upon which this feast of words is served.

But perhaps the best things about this production are Josh Costello's direction and the performances by his talented cast. As Cyrano, William Thomas Hodgson is wonderfully cast, carrying himself with a confident swagger befitting a man who was reputed to be France's best swordsman, as well as a poet, novelist and epistolarian. He glides through Costello's text like an Olympic skater carving patterns on the ice, simultaneously graceful and powerful. He expertly delivers vitriol costumed as courtesy. (Speaking of costumes, designer Maggie Whitaker does wonderfully imaginative work here, mixing colors and patterns that seem to clash but somehow work perfectly.)

Adrian Roberts plays Le Bret as a sort of "wing man" to Cyrano, always having his back, standing tall and firm against the threats that face his friend. Leontyne Mbong-Mbele makes a charming Roxane, knowing when to play it cool by adopting a stiff, stern manner, but releasing her character's reticence into passionate kisses when she is finally (if dishonestly) successfully wooed. Although Steven Flores had some problems with the rhythms of the text in the first few scenes at the performance I attended, he ultimately rebounded and played Christian with sufficient skill.

But all may be left in the dust by Ron Campbell's boisterous, preening portrayal of the Count de Guiche. His sonorous voice fills the intimate Aurora space with bombastic blasts, counterpointing this with subtler moments when he finds himself outwitted or spurned. He has a wonderful scene where he breaks into laughter that is part shrieking hyena, part fifth-grade girl tittering at the latest TikTok sensation. Add to that his bouncing like a puppy released from his crate when things go his way, and an adorable penciled-on, pencil-thin mustache, and we have the evening's top performance.

The story may feel old-fashioned, and the poetry requires your full attention to be fully appreciated, meaning Cyrano may not suit everyone, but what does? It suited me just fine.

Cyrano runs through May 7, 2023, at the Aurora Theatre Company, 2081 Addison Street, Berkeley CA. Shows are Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays-Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $20-$75. For tickets and information, please visit or call 510-843-4822.