SAN DIEGO—This year The Old Globe’s summer festival veered from the original three Shakespeare productions to two Shakespeare with the third, or first in way of presentation, being Edmond Rostand’s historical romance Cyrano De Bergerac.
What a treat for theatergoers to be able to see this show for many reasons not the least of which is Patrick Page. Page who has the juicy role of a consummate poet with the sensitively perched extra large nose (on an otherwise handsome and strong face and sturdy body) and swashbuckling (he calls it panache) manner takes center stage and remains in character throughout. No small feat this, thanks to both Page and director par excellent, Darko Trenjak.
When we first meet up with De Bergerac at the playhouse at the Hotel de Bourgone in Paris in the seventeenth century, his reputation had already preceded him. The guests both friendly and adversarial speak their opinions, pro and con, without hesitation while waiting for him to make his formal appearance. Ready to take on anyone who talks of the size of his nose in a duel to the death, De Bergerac has pretty well fortified himself against any fun making about the ‘nose’ long before he stepped into this particular situation and they all knew it. It was all right for him to talk about it, make fun of it or point it out but don’t anyone else dare. (Lucky for us Barbra Streisand didn’t feel the need to go underground because of her nose).
In the scheme of things, De Bergerac is so typical of someone who is thus consumed with a personal physical flaw that he can’t see the good in himself. Unfortunately he, the man who was head over heels in love with the beautiful Roxane (Dana Green) doesn’t feel deserving of reciprocal love, becomes a voice for the man who confesses his love for her (Brendan Griffin is Christian) and whose love she returns.
Adoring her from afar and protecting her lover with their secret, the mystery of the origin of the love letters becomes a life long preoccupation for Cyrano while his life’s desire fades into the background and both Roxane and Cyrano grow old as platonic rather than intimate lovers. Rostand’s epic play spans fifteen years in the lives of these characters and for three and a half hours we, the audience are mesmerized while the story of unrequited love, swashbuckling battles and hanky panky (well?) unfolds.
Toulouse Lautrec, who came after De Bergerac and Rabbi Yehudah Halevi (who is said to have had a badly disfigured face) of Toledo, Spain who came before De Bergerac, are but three examples of artists whose beauty comes from the inside but whose physical appearances are shunned or ridiculed by others making them almost outcasts because of their looks or handicaps. The only way they become accepted by society is by the beauty they create for the public, Lautrec by his art, Halev his beautiful poetry and philosophical teachings in the Kuzari and De Bergerac his writings and poetry.
History will note their accomplishments as having made great impressions in society as a whole. De Bergerac was a 17th century romantic hero who in reality was a swashbuckling swordsman who entered the corps of the guards at nineteen and began a series of exploits in 1639 and 1640 that made him a hero. Much of it is recreated in all the action scenes in Rostand’s play. The fictional De Bergerac is based on the real Cyrano but most of the story and events come from the
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playwright’s imagination. The real life Cyrano was also a popular poet and science fiction writer
Rostand’s model for the beautiful Roxane was based on the life of De Bergerac’s cousin who lived with his aunt, Catherine de Bergerac at the Convent of the Daughter of the Cross. When a falling beam injured De Bergerac, he went there to be treated for his injuries. This happens toward the end of his long battle to keep his secret from Roxane even after she realizes that his words were the ones she fell in love with not Christian’s.
Even nearing death and abject poverty Cyrano never reveals his true feelings for her. Nor will he accept any help from her. He continues to visit her for fifteen years in the Convent. As the two grow older together tenderness between them develops and while nothing is ever said, beneath the surface their true love is felt up to his dying days.
Tresnjak relies on Anthony Burgess’ translation, which is fun and lighthearted. Listening to De Bergerac (Page) compose poetry as he matches his moves with his sword fighting is his clever way of always veering attention from his looks to focus on his actions instead. Page, a master performer (as noted earlier) assumes the role of De Bergerac like it belonged to him, never once looking uncomfortable in that skin or changing out of character. He has played this part before but not this translation, which manages to capture the audience for the three and a half hour performance.
The lovely Roxane, who is the center of all the romantic conflict, is beautifully played by Dana Green. She is soft, sincere and completely honest and witty in her feelings and that comes through throughout. Her change of heart comes when she realizes that looks are only on the outside trappings. We see her mature from a girl to a woman when she understands that what really counts is goodness on the inside.
My one disappointment in this entire festival but most importantly in Cyrano was the choice of Brendan Griffin as Christian. Never for one moment was I convinced, a) of his acting and 2) his credibility and 3) sincerity. He is the weakest link in the whole show. Considering the pool of actors Tresnjak had to choose from, this was not the best.
Excellent support goes to Bruce Turk as Comte de Guiche who is also in love with Roxanne and who hates Cyrano. Turk is perfect as the jealous social climber and foil to everything Cyrano doesn’t stand for. Eric Hoffman is wonderfully funny as Cyrano’s friend and pastry chef who was always seeking approval from Cyrano for his homespun verse. Poetry, food for the soul is what this jolly baker is all about.
Credit Anna R. Oliver for the exquisite period costumes, York Kennedy for the lighting, Steve Rankin for his daring flight and dueling scenes Christopher R. Walker for sound design and music and of course Ralph Funicello for his creative set design on a stage used for all three of the Festival plays.
In the scheme of things I found both Twelfth Night and Cyrano to be the most enjoyable of the festival plays. I was saddened to learn that Tresnjak will be leaving the Globe and moving on to other projects. No reason was given in the press release, but he will be sadly missed for his kind and caring ways and his accessibility. I wish him luck in his future endeavors.
For more information on the rotation of the Festival Plays go to www.theoldglobe.org.
See you at the theatre.