Produced by: TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
Directed by: Robert Kelley
Fight choreography by: Jonathan Rider
Featuring: J. Anthony Crane, Darren Bridgett, Michael Gene Sullivan, Chad Deverman, Sharon Rietkerk, Stephen Muterspaugh, Christopher Reber, Peter James Meyers, Kit Wilder, Monica Cappuccini
Running time: 160 minutes, one intermission
When: Previews Wednesday through April 8 at 8 p.m. Opens at 8 p.m. April 9; 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays and Wednesdays, 8 p.m. Thursdays and Fridays, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturdays, 2 and 7 p.m. Sundays
Through: May 1, 2016
Where: Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts, 500 Castro Street, Mountain View
Tickets: $19-$80 (subject to change; discounts available); visit http://theatreworks.org or call 1-650-463-1960
at TheatreWorks Silicon Valley
as the great romantic hero undone by his nose
Here's the central fact about the TheatreWorks production of "Cyrano": J. Anthony Crane is a great Cyrano.
He has the swaggering athleticism and sure-handed mastery of the sword needed for the professional soldier, a deep gift for delivering poetry and communicating his love for the fair Roxane, and his comic timing is excellent.
That's a lot of ask of one person, but let us doff our pluméd hats and bow to him in thanks for his nonpareil performance, because it anchors this overall excellent production, directed by the estimable Robert Kelley.
Kelley has a great gift for shows that blend action, romance, meaning and comedy, and the story of the very real Cyrano de Bergerac, as dramatized and inflated in the play by Edmond Rostand, is practically the template for such tales ever since its debut in 1897.
This new translation and adaptation, by Michael Holinger and Aaron Posner, does the theater world a favor by being intended for a much smaller cast than traditional productions. Instead of the 25 or more called for in previous adaptations, this "Cyrano" calls for a cast of just nine (although TheatreWorks uses ten). Only Cyrano just plays the one role; the other nine perform from two or three to perhaps a dozen other parts.
For instance, in the huge sword battle in Act I, when Cyrano defeats 100 brigands, with a great clashing of swords and throwing of punches and pieces of furniture, it's actually six performers rushing on stage to fight and be defeated, then rushing off stage for quick costume changes before coming back to be beaten again. In dim lighting.
Which is, again, why Crane has to be great to play this role. He is the only one on stage constantly for that battle, and for almost every other scene. Before the play begins, as the audience is still schmoozing in the aisles and finding seats, there are actors on stage, fussing with props, chatting. On opening night, when Kelley came out to offer his usual gracious greetings and to ask us to turn off the sound on our cellphones (a favor denied by at least one audience member on that night), the actors huddled up. Before leaving the stage, Kelley joined the huddle for a brief word.
After the lighting lets us know the play has begun, the acting troupe on stage lets us know we are about to see a play, so we are suddenly looped into a double challenge of suspending our disbelief, for the play within the play.
Truth is, this old story is so compelling, so emotional, so well delivered here, that by the end of Act II the artifice doesn't matter. Our audience hearts have been rent open and the story and the characters poured into them.
It all opens when a hilarious bit develops with dialogue between the new guy, Christian (handsomely played by Chad Deverman) and an increasingly sloppy drunk, Ligniere (hilariously played by Darren Bridgett). All of a sudden the theater nearly shakes as Crane shouts, from the back of the audience, then strides down the aisle with the intent to kill an actor, whom he has banned from the stage.
It is a powerful and shocking entrance, and our introduction to Crane's voice, which is rich of timbre.
A friend of mine complained about the length of this production two hours and 40 minutes and I suppose a few minutes could be trimmed here and there, such as in the opening scene, but as soon as our long-nosed hero enters, the play becomes almost totally thrilling and enthralling. There are only a few moments when it drags, and they are all moments when Cyrano is not the focus.
The story is the old one. Cyrano, accomplished, brave, elegant, educated, deadly, thinks he cannot win the love of his second cousin, Roxane, because of his long nose. He has outrageous and deserved self-esteem but for that one protuberance.
As for Roxane ... well, Kelley and Casting Director Leslie Martinson were brilliant in their choice of Sharon Rietkerk to play the part. Rietkerk delivers graciousness and beauty like the sun delivers light. It is no wonder that Cyrano loves her, and that the new member of the Gascony Guards, Christian, is smitten.
I can't speak to the handsomeness of Deverman, who plays Christian. To me, he's just a guy. But, I can appreciate how he plays the part of a smitten dude who recognizes he is too dim to stand beside the shining star that is Roxane, yet he lusts for her and loves her anyway.
Christian, who can barely form coherent sentences, gets a lucky break when Cyrano offers to write letters of love for him.
"If I only had your mouth to express my soul," says Cyrano. "If I only had your words," says Christian. "I'll lend them to you," says Cyrano, and the game is on. "Together we'll make a man, a lover, worthy of great romance."
And so Christian gets the girl (woman), at least for a few minutes, while Cyrano suffers in the garden below.
Then it's off to war for Cyrano and Christian, and the tragedy so often found there.
It is a deeply moving romance, very well played. Another friend of mine said it has an unhappy ending, but again, I disagree. The ones who love recognize each other before the end, and that is triumph.
The excellent cast includes Michael Gene Sullivan, as Le Bret and other parts. Sullivan, a TheatreWorks regular, is solid and always strong in his roles. It's a treat to see the very accomplished Kit Wilder as De Valvert and several other roles. Monica Cappuccini, excellent in a wide variety of roles for other Bay Area theater companies, makes her TheatreWorks debut here, and delivers with excellence.
Others in the consistently excellent cast include Peter James Meyers, Stephan Muterspaugh, and Christopher Reber.
There is a huge moon in the backdrop that is delightful. Lighting designer is Pamila Z. Gray, whose work in this show is excellent, but I happen to know that TheatreWorks resident lighting designer and master electrician Steven B. Mannshardt helped create that beautiful, huge moon, that starts out blue, then sinks into the bloodshed of battle to become red. Wonderful.
Fumiko Bielefeldt's costume design helped tell the story and keep it whole. Joe Ragey's set left me a bit confused. What were those tall things? Bridge piers? And for a while, I thought Cyrano was diving through a bit of backstage costume rack someone had left in the wings, until I finally figured out it was meant to be somebody's closet (OK, maybe I am slow).
Fight Director Jonathan Rider is an absolute star of this production. There is a lot of sword-fighting, and all of it is wonderful to watch because of Rider's choreography.
Two small complaints: Most of the time, Cyrano's nose looks great, a flesh-colored extension of Crane's face. But in some lighting, it looks like a chunk of white plastic. A distraction, that. And, the sound wasn't as good as I would like. I missed about a third of the dialogue from halfway back on the main floor. I don't think the actors wore microphones, but maybe they should.
Overall, this is a great show. Go see it.
Email John Orr at firstname.lastname@example.org