If not for this belly...
If not for my acne...
If I were just a little taller...
Many go through the consternation and aggravation of not looking like Brad Pitt or Angelina Jolie. And many an unrealized expectation has been laid at the mantle of physical flaws.
Theater is littered with dozens of these cathartic diary entries by people shaking their fist at their creator and cursing their imperfections.
Not all plays are created equal though and in Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac, gracing audiences with equal parts cunning and wit at Shakespeare Dallas, the hero’s physical deformity is much less mundane than a simple double chin. In a bold move of comic genius, Rostand chose a protagonist whose primary physical affliction is his absurdly large nose.
No, this isn’t Pinocchio. Cyrano’s nose is always long, always protruding, always right in your face. It’s unavoidable and impossible to politely dismiss. Of course, Rostand only gets credit as far as he recognized the potential in what was actually a very real person’s life.
The real Cyrano de Bergerac lived in the 1600s, and yes, he was reported to have had an above-average-size schnozzle. Not as comically large as is often portrayed in the play, but large nonetheless.
Like the real Cyrano, Rostand made his hero a dramatist blessed with an acerbic wit no doubt honed by years of defending against deriding barbs about his sniffer. Both were also exceedingly successful duelists, and many of the duels were said to have been the result of someone making fun of the Cyranose.
The similarities run throughout and it’s clear Rostand only took minor liberties with Cyrano’s life. Given that, some might assume it’d be simple to merely regurgitate the happenings of an interesting life.
But, Rostand’s words are the true heroes of the story. It’s one thing to read about Cyrano’s famous wit and intelligence and quite another to actually write intelligently witty repartee for the fictional realization of the character to slather on his enemies.
In this pursuit, Rostand proves himself a master of language.
As Brian Bedford recently said about performing Oscar Wilde, paraphrasing, You have to get it.
To write or perform wit, you have to get it. And Rostand did.
Taking the form of a fairly standard biography, Cyrano (Chris Hury) catches up with the eponymous character at the Hotel Burgundy where he is obviously the cock of the walk, ruling the room as a king would his court.
Emboldened by a victory in a duel, Cyrano admits to his friend Le Bret (Marcus Stimac) that he is in love with his distant cousin, Roxane (Lydia Mackay) – apparently that was OK in 1600s France – yet is confident she will not have him because of his tremendous beak. However, Roxane’s Duenna (Amber Devlin) arrives and informs Cyrano that Roxane would like to meet the following day at Ragueneau’s (Michael Johnson) bake shop.
Convinced that she has seen through his physical shortcomings, Cyrano wells with excitement. So much so that when his friend Ligniere (H. Francis Fuselier) comes to him for help citing that 100 men are waiting for him at his home, Cyrano accompanies the man to the house and single-handedly takes on the lot of them.
The next day at the bakery, expecting good news, Cyrano is instead disappointed to hear from Roxane that she has fallen in love with the handsome Christian (Austin Tindle), a new cadet in Cyrano’s military company.
Having fallen into the friend zone, Cyrano does what any emasculated guy would and agrees to take care of Christian for his love.
After meeting Christian through a confrontation initiated by the young cadet, Cyrano decides that he admires the young man’s courage and decides – with selfishly cathartic intentions – to help the attractive but less verbally gifted kid in pursuing Roxane.
As many Meg Ryan movies have taught us over the years, this almost never bodes well, but makes for good theater.
Shakespeare Dallas’ production, directed by Raphael Parry, has an adventurous tone with a committed cast aided by the overflowing charisma of its lead.
Hury’s portrayal of the title character is a slightly more angsty take as he sometimes allows more fear and anger to bubble to his wit defended surface. But, he balances minor moments of anger out with an excellent sense of both timing and physicality as it pertains to the humor of the role. Specifically, that bake shop scene when Roxane informs him that she loves Christian. His reactions are priceless, if not painfully familiar to some audience members. That attempt to hide extreme disappointment, hold back anger, and show loving support all at the same time.
More impressive than that nuanced reaction, though, is the duel in the opening scene. Before the duel even begins, Cyrano launches into a famous tirade, advising an instigator on the many more creative ways he could have made fun of the hero’s nose. From there, they duel, during which Cyrano makes up a ballade on the spot. Hury’s ability to maintain focus during an intricately choreographed fight scene and deliver such an important speech is impressive, and lends itself to another important production note.
Cyrano not only involves many crowd scenes, but several fight scenes including both battles and fencing duels. All of these are impressively staged and executed thanks to Lloyd Caldwell’s movement and fight choreography.
On the whole, though it’s not of the Bard’s hand, Shakespeare Dallas’ Cyrano de Bergerac stands up as a classic adventure comedy.
And if having the opportunity to see this production wasn’t exciting enough, Brad McEntire of Audacity Theatre Lab is presenting, as a companion piece to the Shakespeare Dallas production, Cyrano A-Go-Go, an original oration. It runs every Saturday afternoon at the Green Zone through July 23.
Throughout the hour-and-15-minute piece, McEntire delivers more of the history from his favorite play whilst tying it in with events from his own life in an engaging, educational experience sure to enrich the impact of Cyrano.
During the oration, McEntire recounts the nerve-wracked opening night and the subsequent two hour standing ovation, the conundrum of being the brother-like guy friend, and the impact of the play on his pursuit of theater.
The whole of the piece is well-organized, jumping from past to present, from fiction to fact, between his life and Cyrano’s with great aplomb. There’s never a dull moment, and the experience will not only augment your appreciation for Rostand’s masterpiece, but the theater and arts in general, with an interesting bit of history thrown in.
McEntire’s love for the source material is obvious and infects the performance with a genuine earnestness, like someone who is sharing a cherished treasure. It’s hard not to be drawn in, even when you’re the only other person in the room. His commitment and excitement is instills a friendly warmth in the room.
Working in conjunction with Project X, McEntire and Audacity Theatre Lab is an outfit worthy of attention. Fresh off a successful showing at the Out of the Loop Festival with McEntire’s I Have Angered A Great God, Audacity shows a penchant for thoughtful original theater presented in unique ways, unencumbered by traditional theatrical conventions.
An oration called Cyrano A-Go-Go might sound simple on concept but highlights one of the most important and often overlooked aspects of theater. It’s history. Knowledge and awareness of how history informs our performances. In this case, Cyrano is a based on a true story take of a real person. A person easy to identify with and imminently likable. Like so many of us. And McEntire is able to take that history and show it not only applies but mirrors our own lives at times and how we can glean important lessons from both history and the theater.
In that way, McEntire’s piece is just as important as Cyrano, and it’s recommended that you check out both, preferably with McEntire coming first. It will enrich the entire experience of seeing Dallas Shakespeare’s apt production.
It’s certainly not something to look down your nose at.
◊ For info about Shakespeare Dallas' Cyrano de Bergerac, see the fact box above (below the photo). For info on Audacity's Cyrano A-Go-Go, see our listing, or the piece McEntire wrote about it for TheaterJones.