Review: “Cyrano de Bergerac” at The Theatre at St. Clement’s (Closed Sunday February 28, 2016)

February 10, 2016 | Off-Broadway | Tags:
By Edmond Rostand, Adapted by Gabriel Barre, Rick Sordelet and Alexander Sovronsky
Directed by Gabriel Barre
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“This nose precedes me everywhere/A quarter of an hour in front, to say, ‘Beware/Don’t love Cyrano’ to even the ugliest/And now Cyrano has to love the best,/The brightest, bravest, wittiest, the most/Beautiful!”

Were he to live in the present, Cyrano de Bergerac would assume that women viewing his twenty-first century profile on Bumble or Tinder would immediate swipe left and leave him dateless. Despite his stellar profile, his proboscis would be unbecoming enough to ruin his chances for love. That low self-esteem plagued the fictionalized Cyrano in 17th Century France and believed his ugliness prevented his cousin Roxanne from falling in love with him choosing instead the handsome and young soldier Christian de Neuvillette.

The classic play’s themes raise important and enduring questions about fear, beauty, loyalty, friendship, love, and difference – what it means to be different and what it means to accept those perceived as being different. Resonance Ensemble’s production of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” currently running at The Theatre at St. Clement’s, is an adaptation of the play based on the translation by Anthony Burgess and it faithful to the text and to the spirit of the iconic work. It is easy to identify the characters and their conflicts and the plot driven by these engaging problems that are as contemporary as they are part of the fabric of 17th Century France.

The music and lyrics – despite their skilled execution – are superfluous and add nothing to the overall development of the action of the play. And the attempt to include audience members by having them read a few lines or trot across the stage is ineffective and seriously detracts from the production. The simple and economical set and props serve their purpose well with a somewhat 17th century theatrical flair. What diminishes this is the actors wandering about in order to change costumes, retrieve props or instruct would be flustered thespians who are seated on stage of their next assignment. This could possibly enhance the effect but the constant peripheral business only diminishes important scenes.

The performance at Hotel Burgundy, Roxanne’s confession of love for Christian at the poet’s cook shop, Roxanne’s kiss and marriage to Christian, the siege of Arras and death of Christian, the convent fifteen later where Roxanne learns the truth about Cyrano’s love and letters and where Cyrano dies after being ambushed by an enemy – all of these important components of Rostand’s enduring love story are extant in the Resonance production.

This is truly one of the greatest classic love stories that has proven the test of time. Unfortunately what is lacking in this particular production is the chemistry needed between the characters to communicate their feelings of insurmountable love. The infatuation, desire, longing, admiration and lust is just not believable; therefore, the relationships become unimportant which is the crux of the story. The actors are competent on their own but a bit selfish in their presence and need to be a bit more generous in order to create meaningful relationships. Less bravura and more humility might be a good antidote.

It is Edmond Rostand’s text and Gabriel Barre’s inventive and direction, although flawed, that serve the production best. Mr. Rostand understands the “language of love” and the actors understand that language, letting his prose roll gently off their tongues or spew fiercely through their lips when necessary. The problem occurs when actors fail to catch these words and savor them in order to give a heartfelt response.