Edmond Rostand's enduring Cyrano de Bergerac, the melodrama about veiled courtship which was hugely popular in the 1930s, 40s and 50s (most memorably in Jose Ferrer's Oscar-winning performance in the title role from the 1950 film), nowadays is largely known through a modernized Hollywood version by Steve Martin. It has now been revived by The Queens Players’ artistic director Richard Mazda. In reacting to the production which I saw on its opening night Thursday (which also marked the opening of Mazda’s new 100-seat theatre, The BIG Secret), I must quote humorist Garrison Keillor, who after seeing and disliking Edward Albee's Pulitzer Prize winning drama Three Tall Women remarked, "It is a production that after you've been there for a short while, you wonder how long this is going to take." From the start of Mr. Mazda's disappointingly sluggish (clocking in at three long hours) revival of Cyrano de Bergerac, I wondered the same thing.
Set in the mid-1600s, the show and lead characters’ appeal derives from a combination of sentimentality and flourish. Writing in 1897, Rostand nostalgically recalled the 17th-century France of swashbuckling military heroes. The title character is a soldier whose heart is as big as his gigantic nose. Cyrano (Daniel Wolfe) loves his beautiful cousin, Roxane (Sarah Bonner), but is certain that his ugliness makes romance with her impossible. Instead of wooing Roxane for himself, he does so for a handsome but tongue-tied young cadet named Christian (Anthony Martinez)—by writing letters and, in the famous balcony scene, whispering Christian’s lines to him. It is this conceit that drives the rest of the play, as Cyrano continues to love Roxane but only by pretending to be Christian. Even after the Cadets find themselves on the front lines of the war with Spain, Cyrano continues to write to Roxane as Christian to the point where, risking her own life, she actually joins them in the trenches.
All of this is compelling on the page and should be, no question, on the stage, but Richard Mazda's production putters along without ever stirring the blood. It grossly lacks the sentimentality and flourish that Rostand originally intended. The moments of bittersweet romance never move, and the comic scenes only inspire a very mild smile.
Given the chamber-sized ensemble structure of the play, you would think that Mazda and his production team would have created a set that would transform itself from theater, to bakery, to balcony, to battlefield, but what we get is a too bare-bones production with little in the way of set (and costumes) that does little to nothing to locate the characters in a specific time and place.
Most of the performances from his large ensemble cast are only serviceable, but Anthony Martinez, who plays Christian, delivers an admirable performance informed by honest emotional tension. Cyrano is an embodiment of camp or soul, a figure who presents an outrageous exterior as a strategy for dealing with a painful inner life, which is probably why the role of Cyrano is coveted by actors as much as that of Hamlet. While Daniel Wolfe does a decent job with the role, he delivers little stylishness. Sarah Bonner’s Roxane feels brittle rather than warm, while Daniel Smith failed to make the Comte de Guiche anything other than a cardboard cut-out villain.
A disappointment as big as Cyrano's famous nose.
Cyrano de Bergerac runs at The Big Secret Theatre until December 5th.