Isn't It Romantic?
Theatre de la Jeune Lune
Any chance at love was entered poorly because this nose arrived ten minutes early.
--Cyrano Savinien Hercule de Bergerac
At first glance this particular Cyrano seems a dislikable sort. He saunters onstage with his sword planted lewdly between his legs and threatens to cut up poor Montfleury just because he's a bad actor. Cyrano boasts and goads, disturbs and disrupts, and he wears a god-awful lime green ensemble. The rogue.
Theatre de la Jeune Lune's take on Edmond Rostand's classic seems a bit peculiar in this opening sequence--disturbingly flippant, really. How on earth can this great romantic hero be so unheroic: He sports a straw hat, flimsy sunglasses, and really bad hair. Sure, we're won over a bit when he elegantly teaches Valvert a thing or two about the size of a man's nose, but his cocky attitude makes him seem more action hero than epic hero.
But then, after the crowd disperses and Cyrano (Dominique Serrand) and friend Le Bret (Vincent Gracieux) are left alone onstage, Le Bret gradually coaxes an admission out of the swashbuckler: Cyrano is in love. The depths of his love, and of his pain, are extraordinary. The eloquence of his adoration and the intensity of his desire affirm a lover's soul, yet his face damns him to solitude.
In the poetry of his desire for Roxane, this Cyrano's soul floods out, and we realize that Jeune Lune's interpretation is masterful. Of course Cyrano is brash and irreverent in public; his only other choice would be to drown. When Le Bret exclaims, "Roxane watched your triumph today!" Cyrano becomes a spaniel-eyed child, whispering, "Really?" The swaggering demeanor has cracked open and the depth of his love is laid bare.
Around his beloved Roxane (Norah Long), Cyrano is a brotherly charmer. She in turn is effervescent in tulle and Chuck Taylors. Roxane grabs Cyrano's hand and recalls a moment when they were children together. (The age difference between the actors, however, makes it seem that Cyrano began to admire Roxane when she was about 4--a little unseemly, but we suspend disbelief and get on with it.) He tenses at her touch and we feel the currents of his shock. "Was I pretty?" she asks.
"Not bad," he shrugs softly, looking away.
Serrand gives this take again and again throughout the show; a quick ironic comment delivered over quiet bitterness--as if he's mocking himself for his own grotesque fate. Here, the role of Cyrano consumes Serrand; a man breaks before our eyes.
The performances fix our gaze on these intimate moments with cinematic precision, yet director Barbra Berlovitz never lets us forget that this is theater. The company attacks the supporting roles with all their comical might. Especially notable is Stephen Epp, who brings a fey sardonicism to the malevolent Compte de Guiche. Berlovitz uses every body possible to illustrate Rostand's tale. Early in the play, a crowd of bakers prances about in intricately choreographed sequences--tripping and bumping and bumbling. Then, when the second act begins, these same bodies, now dressed in cadet uniforms, lie in dusty light preparing for death, while a lone soldier sings their fight song--"We Are the Cadets of Gascoyne." The tragedy has begun.
This is not Jose Ferrer's version of Cyrano, but a wholly theatrical original. In one of the play's most lovely moments, Cyrano and Christian (Joel Spence, who courts Roxane with all the eloquence of his bum) crouch in the shadows of Roxane's balcony as she stands above a branch gently singing to herself. Long's beautiful operatic voice seems to consecrate the stage, and everything suddenly feels like a fairy tale.
Cyrano begins to speak for the bewildered Christian and produces some of the most eloquent romantic lines conceivable. Serrand's Cyrano speaks his heart while the projection of a silver moon slides steadily across the sky. His words draw Roxane out of her balcony straight onto the tree branch that hangs center stage. She stands high above the stage framed by leaves, with moon and white stars behind her. Christian looks up desperately from the shadows while the force of his own words sends Cyrano climbing up the scaffolding stage left. "All the flirting candles of night are out," he says, "and this is what life is about."
Indeed. The energy created by this triangle, the opera, and the night sky leaves an indelible print on the brain--a hopelessly romantic vision, a Cyrano with panache.
Cyrano runs at Theatre de la Jeune Lune through January 31; call 333-6200.
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