"Cyrano de Bergerac”
Bridgeport Free Shakespeare, Beardsley Zoo, Bridgeport
The excellent Bridgeport Free Shakespeare has attempted something new this summer, foregoing Shakespeare for Rostand. Cyrano de Bergerac holds forth, flourishing his sword, his poetry, his philosophy.
Does the French classic “Cyrano de Bergerac” work? Though the zoo’s peacocks were still on hand to cry their raucous approval, though the wooded grove (with picnic tables and refreshment stands nearby) still surrounded the stage, it was not quite as before. Frankly, we missed Shakespeare. But gradually as the night darkened and the production grew stronger in the second act, the magic took over.
Rostand’s 19th century “Cyrano” was a romantic play, a counterpoint to the new, gritty realism of his era. Cyrano was not meant to be a real man, but, rather, a symbol—a metaphor for courage, brilliance, independence. Hence director Ellen Lieberman lets her characters—and particularly Jared Reinmuth as Cyrano—play it over the top.
Though the declamatory style was the accepted mode for 19th century acting, we moderns (nurtured on Stanislavsky, the Actors Studio and Marlon Brando) find this style false and off-putting. Reinmuth, as he first appears on an upper platform, declaims his lines, and we search in vain for the real man.
What is the tale about? It is Paris in the 16th century, and Cyrano is secretly in love with his cousin Roxane (Mino Lora). But he sees this love as hopeless, considering his lack of good looks. Cyrano has a nose as long as a peacock’s tail. And so it is inevitable that Roxane will love Christian (Tim Shelton), Cyrano’s handsome fellow guardsman, who returns her love. But Christian is all surface beauty, and has no words with which to woo the intellectual Roxane. He turns to his friend for help, and Cyrano is all too willing to pen the love letters which win Roxane.
The early scenes feel chaotic, with the busy company filling the stage and Cyrano strutting about like a peacock (the real peacocks having taken refuge in the nearby woods). Only a few of the characters emerge unscathed in these scenes—Cyrano’s good friend LeBret (played with quiet dignity by Craig Anthony Bannister), the Court singer Ligniere (an appealing portrayal by Eric Nyquist), and Rebekah Dunn, who is appropriately over-dramatic as the theater owner.
But intermission offers a welcome and charming hiatus, with actors strolling among the theatergoers and Nyquist providing music. And then, as the second act opens, a weather change comes about. The story, and the set, begin to heat up. And lighting designer Sebastian Paczynski creates his own kind of poetry. The lovely Roxane is on her balcony, lit by golden light against the dark night. As Christian sends his pleas upward to his love, Cyrano shows his all-too-human passion and anguish. He stands below, hidden from view, as he watches the lovers kiss. From this time on Reinmuth makes the role his own, while both Shelton and Lora give life to their portrayals. And indeed we become more and more embroiled in the story, as the two men go off to war.
And so “Cyrano” finally captures its audiences. In this rustic setting, audience and players have become one. No wonder theater, in so many different times and places, continues to be spellbinding down through the centuries!
-- Irene Backalenick
July 22, 2006