CYRANO DE BERGERAC: Unrequited Love
A Theater Review by Julinda D. Lewis
At: Swift Creek Mill Theatre, 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, Colonial Heights, VA 23834
Performances: January 26 – March 2, 2019
Ticket Prices: $40 Theater only; $57 Dinner & Theater
Info: (804) 748-5203 or swiftcreekmill.com
Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano de Bergerac in 1897 and many are familiar with this classic, either as a reading assignment in high school or from Steve Martin’s 1987 comedy named for Cyrano’s love interest, “Roxanne.” But it is another thing entirely to see Cyrano performed live onstage, and still be moved to laughter by the 17th century poet’s flowery words and braggadocio and touched by the hero’s uncharacteristically humble acceptance of unrequited love. And yes, this is fiction, but it is based on a real person.
The current production onstage at Swift Creek Mill Theatre, adapted by Emily Frankel and directed by John Moon, is a delightful period comedic romp. Like every production at Swift Creek, it is one of artistic director Tom Width’s favorites. This one earns a special place of honor because, he writes in the program notes, it “confirm[s] the ability of this story’s themes to transcend time and place.” Cyrano, a talented poet, playwright, musician, and soldier, is in love with his beautiful cousin Roxane, but due to his unusually large nose, he lacks the confidence to approach her. Instead, he writes love letters to her on behalf of Christian, a fellow cadet whom he befriends at Roxane’s request.
The production is dedicated to the beloved Andy Boothby, who transitioned suddenly on November 26, and had been cast in the title role, which is now being filled by Matt Bloch. Even with the flamboyantly large prosthetic nose in place, Bloch isn’t ugly; in fact, he is so far from ugly that this casting decision requires good acting in collaboration with a suspension of belief by the audience. Looks aside, Bloch does a commendable job as Cyrano, a role that is both verbally and physically demanding. The final scene, in which he visits Roxane who has retired to a convent after Christian dies on the battlefield, is more touching than I expected. Thankfully, director Moon keeps it simple and brief.
David Janosik plays Christian, whose love for Roxanne is also unrequited, because she doesn’t know that the words that are winning her over are not his own, but those of her cousin Cyrano. I wanted to feel sorry for Christian, but it was difficult to balance this desire with rooting for Cyrano to overcome his insecurities about his looks and find true love.
The lovely Rachel Rose Gilmour is well cast as the fair Roxane. It was helpful to see the scene in which she deftly deflects her lecherous uncle, DeGuiche – a scene performed for the Acts of Faith Preview – in context. In her scene with the tongue-tied Christian she is abrupt and amusing.
Other strong characters include Walter C. A. Riddle as Cyrano’s second in command, Capt. LeBret and Jon Cobb as the play’s antagonist, DeGuiche. Debra wagoner provided some wonderfully comedic moments as Roxane’s Duenna, and her perpetual giggle was simultaneously girlish and naughty.
Frank Foster’s simply elegant design, consisting mostly of a soaring archway with moveable benches and posts, transformed, with the help of Joe Doran’s lights, from a theater to a pastry shop, a court yard, a battlefield, and finally the garden of a convent. Maura Lynch Cravey’s elaborate period costumes, which included lace collars and cuffs, capes, plumed hats, and long hair for the men, and the women’s extended skirts, were as flamboyant as Foster’s design was unassuming.
As for those enduring themes, there is pride versus humility, physical beauty versus inner beauty, integrity and deception, bravery and revenge, chivalry and love, and of course, there is sword-fighting!
Julinda D. Lewis is a dancer, teacher, and writer who was born in Brooklyn, NY and now lives in Eastern Henrico County.