Review | Cyrano de Bergerac: swashbuckling romance

The Guthrie Theater, through May 5

Jennie Greenberry and Jay O. Sanders in CYRANO DE BERGERAC. Photo by T. Charles Erickson.

The Guthrie‘s program for Edmond Rostand‘s ageless Cyrano de Bergerac lists, in a first for this reviewer, a credit for “Intimacy Consultant” (Lauren Keating). Oh boy, says I to myself. Intimacy. Tantalizing, erotic, pervading the play. Giving the play a passionate sexy frisson. Gimme those intimate moments!

Alas, there were none. In the G’s Cyrano, 17th century France is rendered with disappointing stiffness and generic characterization. The cast seemed intimidated by the costumes (magnificently designed by Jan Chambers). Ill at ease with their rapiers. Everything seemed too crisp, too clean. The Act Two nuns have crossed a bloody shit-strewn battlefield (ditto Roxanne) but you’d never know it to look at them.

Not that there isn’t marvelousness galore. Cyrano’s first entrance, for example. Cyrano (Jay O. Sanders) moves slowly down a side aisle, going from darkness into light, spouting poetry and nifty swordplay, effortlessly taking control of the stage – and the play. “Let anyone who longs for death raise his hand. No?” At first, Sanders seemed heavy-handed and plodding, but I came to really appreciate his resourcefulness, the way he gave vivid life to long scenes and speeches. His magnificent nose was too far away to see clearly, but his profile? Boffisimo. Sanders makes the play. It’s a terrific performance.

BTW, which artist do we have to thank for C’s beautifully ugly nose? McKay Coble (set designer)? Jan Chambers (costumes)? Sanders himself? Someone else? I’d like to shake his/her hand.

Nice work is turned in also by the uber-romantic Jennie Greenberry as Roxanne and the uber-stupid Robert Lenzi as Christian. Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the most lushful romances in dramatic literature, and these two make it work. I really felt their love for each other. You’ll be happier, imo, if you arrange to be seated close to the stage. That way, you’ll be able to appreciate C’s nose and you’ll see how pretty Greenberry and Lenzi are (very).

Ansa Akyea plays Ragueneau the goofy pastry-shop owner, peripatetic and breathlessly hysterical. I’m not sure he’s in the same play as everyone else, but he’s great fun. I was thankful for his unflagging energy.

Cyrano, the story of the marvelously be-schnozzed Cyrano de Bergerac creating rich love poetry for the dork Christian, is one of the most-produced properties in existence. There are “straight” (an odd term) versions, in English and in every tongue under the sun (Rostand’s original version is in late 19th century French). There are film adaptations, TV movies, musicals (including an excellent one, called C, by our own Theater Latté Da).

The G’s Cyrano, adapted (and directed) by Joseph Haj is nearly 3 hours long. It uses the public domain translation and cries out, imho, to be edited. However, that complaint aside, when the cast relaxes into the production, the play will sing. In the meantime, enjoy the spot-on work of Jay O. Sanders.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Bush Foundation, The McKnight Foundation and from The National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit his informational website.

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