James E. Trainor III
Cedar Rapids - The famous Cyrano de Bergerac, the title character of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play, is a figure that has captured the hearts and minds of generations. He's a surprisingly modern hero, witty, critical of his political superiors, self-sufficient and self-effacing. Simultaneously the sharpest wit and ugliest face in France, the swaggering satirist isn't afraid to poke fun at his own grotesque, bulbous nose. In the first act, he does this at length; in response to a rather uncreative insult, he demonstrates the numerous ways his rival could have insulted him, to the amusement of bystanders. When he's grown bored of this game, he decides to challenge the man to a duel, while composing a ballad about it on the spot. It's moments like this, with its perfect combination of verbal and physical comedy, that make Cyrano de Bergerac such a memorable play, and the Classics at Brucemore production, directed by Richard Barker, brings it to life in a lovely way.
Jason Alberty plays Cyrano. He is excellent in the role; he has a powerful stage presence and a real feel for the pathos of the part. He is not costumed outrageously, but colorfully and effectively, and his false nose gets the point across with being grossly overdone. He uses the language to great effect; the sometimes sing-songy cadence of the rhyme is natural, specific, and employed with great energy. He plays off the ensemble well, connecting with members of the crowd in the large group scenes, and from this we see what a beloved hero Cyrano is to those who depend on him to fight their battles and lift their spirits. But most of all, he does everything in the piece with love, commitment, and passion. Alberty was born to play this part, and he takes us along for a delightful ride.
Matthew James plays Christian de Neuvillette, who is one corner of a peculiar love triangle. Both he and Cyrano have fallen for the lovely Roxane (Angela Meisterling Billman). But Christian, though he has the good looks Cyrano lacks, does not have the brilliant way with words for which the other is famous. So they strike a bargain to woo her together -- Christian will be the face, Cyrano the letters. James is incredibly funny in these scenes and he is well partnered with Alberty. Upon the first meeting, as Christian pokes and prods Cyrano with interruptions to his heroic story, James' wit, charm, and sense of comic timing are clear. He's also quite funny later, as he squirms and stutters before Roxane, and by the end of the show we see some real character growth.
Billman is wonderful as Roxane. She is very funny and works as a great straight man against the farcical duo of Alberty & James. At the same time, the emotion is very real, and she is very good at bringing out the language in the music. She is also paired quite well with Scott Humeston, who plays the cowardly and gullible Comte de Guiche.
There's a lot of great acting from the ensemble. Humeston's de Guiche, David Morton's wild lush Ligniere, Jim Kropa's snotty noble de Valvert and K. Michael Moore's loyal friend Le Bret are just a few performances that stood out. The whole of the cast is great, and director Richard Barker channels their energy well. Barker is a wonderful director whose love for this particular story shows in every onstage moment. Bonnie Moses' costumes are spectacular, and allow Barker to use the same actors to play many characters.
Jason Tipsword's fight choreography deserves special mention -- Cyrano's fighting style fits right in with his character. During the duel, his stance is often lackadaisical and arrogant, but he's suddenly ready when Valvert tries to get in a hit, snapping to attention, feinting and then striking precisely. It's a blast to watch, and the mass combat that covers the first scene change is simply delightful.
The whole show, from the beginning, has a celebratory feel, and the outdoor atmosphere of Brucemore's grounds aids in this. It's a lovely summer evening on the lawn, and you can even bring a blanket and a beverage. Treat yourself to Cyrano next weekend; it's a great play produced with vision and love. Cyrano runs through July 20; additional performance information can be found here.