The ShawFestival has staged its own version of Edmond Rostand’s legendary Cyranode Bergerac. Playwright Kate Hennig was commissioned to translate andadapt the verbally sparkling, ironic and seriously romantic play. She has delivereda prose translation to be performed by fourteen actors, seven men and sevenwomen. Seven of the actors are assigned individual roles while the other seven musthandle as many as five roles. That does not create many issues because most ofthe secondary characters do not present a problem.
The balconyscene and the recognition scene at the end of the play are the best and mostmemorable parts of the play and I dare say the raison d’etre of its popularity.There are several other decent scenes but the swashbuckling and the battle scenes,for example, leave me less than thrilled.
The centralcharacter is of course Cyrano played by Tom Rooney. He is a man of many talentsfrom a great and brave swordsman, to a poet, an idealist and a fighter againsthypocrisy. Unfortunately, he is ugly and lives in great fear of being mocked.He loves deeply but is afraid to approach a woman. Even his mother did not lovehim. He does fall in love with his cousin, the beautiful Roxane, but she is inlove with the handsome cadet Christian (Jeff Irving).
Roxane, playedby Deborah Hay, is a woman of beauty with a taste for poetry and a desire for romance.She falls in love with Christian’s beauty, but she expects much more from him.She finds the higher virtues that Christian cannot express orally in thebalcony scene and in “his” letters and poetry. These reach their apogee in thebalcony scene where Cyrano speaks the poetry of love pretending as to beChristian. The ruse continues when Cyrano writes letters to Roxane from the warfront all the time pretending that they are fromChristian.
I found thebalcony scene disappointing. Cyrano’s wooing of Roxane as if he were Christian beginshaltingly and picks up speed like a force of nature. He first wants to bringdown the stars from the sky and beat Cupid athis own game. There is a build-up of passion that reaches an emotional paroxysmin both Cyrano and Roxane. She trembles, weeps, is drunk with love and declaresherself his. In that climactic moment, Cyrano declares that he is ready to die.
The penultimatescene where Cyrano reads “Christian’s” last letter to Roxane and she realizesthat it was he who loved her is moving
Rooney and Hayfell short of reaching that emotional Everest. They are good but I think thescenes demand more than they delivered. Cyrano’sdeath when he utters his last word “panache” evoked some laughter from theaudience. Good grief!
Hay and Rooneyare no doubt capable of expressing great emotional ranges and I am not sure whydirector Chris Abraham chose to understate the depths felt by the characters inthese scenes.
Irving as thehandsome and verbally challenged dolt wins and keeps Roxane on the love andletters of Cyrano. He is just a prop and perhaps a symbol of the vacuity ofbeauty, but we give the actor credit for his representation. The othercharacters that are of more than minor importance are the poet Rageneau (KyleBlair), the nasty De Guiche (Patrick Galligan) and Le Bret (Tanja Jacobs).
With thesignificant exceptions noted, the production is well done. The opening scenewhere Montfleury (David Adams) is thrown off the stage and the crowd scenes arewell done. The scene in Rageneau’s bakery between Cyrano and Roxane is moving.The boom-boom scene in the Siege of Arras has its moments.
The set designby Julie Fox is good and efficient for thelocales of the action.
Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand in an adaptation byKate Hennig will run in repertory until October 20, 2019 at the Royal GeorgeTheatre, Niagara-on-the-Lake,Ontario. www.shawfest.com.