Chicago Theater Review: CYRANO (BoHo Theatre)

by Lawrence Bommer on March 11, 2018

in Theater-Chicago

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Edmond Rostand’s timeless love story celebrates the one-sided love between the famous 17th-century swordsman and poet — disfigured with a humongous schnoz — and his beautiful cousin, Roxane, who is infatuated with Christian, a hot-blooded, handsome and bashfully inarticulate Gascon warrior, a suitor who can’t win her without Cyrano’s hidden eloquence. In the most lyrical scene in an unashamedly romantic drama, Cyrano, whose nose makes him think he’s unworthy to receive a woman’s love or confess his own, woos Roxane in the dark while Christian — pouring out borrowed words — reaps the rewards of another man’s ardor. Only later, when it’s too late for joy but not for regret, does Cyrano discover how much he was loved for his beautiful soul. Together, Cyrano, Christian and Roxane create the most powerful literary three-way in dramatic literature.

A portrait of silent passion, Cyrano de Bergerac shows how unspoken love hurts just as much as unrequited love.

The simple story, which normally spans three hours and 15 years (1640-1655), is made immensely entertaining by Rostand’s penchant for baroque imagery and his canny zest for the grand flourish. You see it in bustling, richly-textured scenes set in a theater, pastry shop, battlefield and convent. Better, you hear it in Cyrano’s stunning tours-de-force: his poetic duel with a suicidal idiot who insulted his proboscis; his eloquent declarations of independence from court and church; and his tall tale of a visit to a planet where sex is compulsory and the inhabitants very thin.

Except that in BoHo Theatre’s new 150-minute, nine-character adaptation by Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner (perpetrator of Stupid Fucking Bird), the real Cyrano’s account of the different ways he could have reached the moon is discarded in favor of his ardent declaration of love for the satellite’s goddess Luna. It’s a fitting affiliation for this mad dreamer, unlikely hero of a streamlined, sometimes sarcastic version that’s contemporarily wary about embracing Rostand’s florid sentimentality. (This reduction also crucially omits the moment after the Battle of Arras when Cyrano realizes he can never tell Roxane the truth about who really wrote Christian’s letters: Even after death she is still so in love with him that noble Cyrano can’t mess with that memory. He condemns himself to abstinence and poverty as she does to chastity and the convent.)

Even in this truncated, sardonically witty, occasionally anachronistic, but suitably lyrical revision, Rostand’s historical romance sweeps wide enough to suggest the strengths of its source: Luxuriating in the sheer theatricality of it all, Steve O’Connell’s brusque but sturdy staging at times verges on unintended camp. (Savoring the raucous over the rhapsodic, the opening night audience laughed at much that Rostand meant to be tender.)

Patrick Ham’s serviceable stage stands in for a lot of diverse locales. At its heart lies an eloquent but not altogether electrifying trio: Michael B. Woods’ passionately persuasive Cyrano (though his prosthetic nose was less convincing), Zach Livingston’s energetic but not irresistible Christian, and the object of their adoration, Vahishta Vafadari’s sensation-seeking Roxane. All go through the correct paces, and tears are possible in the final scene when the real lovers are united too late.

Jon Beal’s fight choreography is visceral and thrilling: Oddly the one scene here that’s enlarged from the original is Cyrano’s battle with 100 adversaries sent by De Guiche. Legion character work comes from Matty Robinson as the all-purpose pastry cook Ragueneau, Stephen Peebles as Cyrano’s supple confidant, Eleanor Katz as Roxane’s protective companion, and, in a trouser role, Kristin Hammargren, a dignified villain as Cyrano’s aristocratic rival and military superior, the Comte de Guiche. (Curiously, the production omits Ragueneau’s all-important wagon in the fourth act where Christian and Roxane finally consummate their marriage before the Siege of Arras.) The small ensemble dutifully double and triple up as Gascon cadets, patrons of the Theatre Beaujolais, pastry-shop patrons, and a nun in Roxane’s convent.

This venture is a good introduction to a vaster pageant than this shrunken one can suggest. But Rostand’s complex tale of the selfless and self-doubting soul of a literal lunatic always deserves retelling and right now this is the only Cyrano in town.

photos by Liz Lauren

BoHo Theatre
Theater Wit, 1229 W Belmont Ave
Thurs-Sat at 8; Sun at 2
ends on April 15, 2018
for tickets, call 773.327.5252 or visit BoHo Theatre

for more shows, visit Theatre in Chicago

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