Cyrano de Bergerac
Physical challenges can work for us or against us; Richard III's deformity was a crutch for his nastiness, while Helen Keller's blindness, deafness and muteness shaped an extraordinary life. In all of comedy, however, one man's physical challenge stands head and shoulders, or perhaps we should say "one very long nose," above the rest. We are speaking, of course, of Cyrano de Bergerac, he of legendary proboscis.
At the end of the 19th Century, when Edmond Rostand wrote and produced his play based on the life of the famous swordsman and poet, it took Paris by storm. Cyrano's story naturally lends itself to exposition; everything about him is larger than life—his nose, his manner, his vocabulary and poetic abilities and, above all, his heart.
To open it's 23rd season, the Denver Center Theatre Company commissioned a new translation and adaptation of this classic by Nagle Jackson, who also directs. There are many challenges in such a task, some of which Jackson handles with ease and others with mere adequacy. The biggest plus is Bill Christ in the title role. Christ's impressive stature, booming baritone, massive head and effortless braggadocio brings full force to Cyrano's expansive personality.
Cyrano's deft swordsmanship and sharp wit are his greatest defense against any who would dare disparage his famous feature, but he is defenseless against the fair Roxane, to whom he is unable to express his affections. Libby West, as the love interest, moves easily from her early superficial infatuation with Christian de Neuvillette to her later spiritual attraction to words and emotions expressed by the author of the letters she receives. Given that Cyrano and Roxanne "grew up together," West's beauty stands up well to Christ's mature presence.
Jackson's translation prudently mixes rhyme, blank verse and prose and only falters when it attempts to use American English colloquialisms that stick out as hopelessly anachronistic. It is in the scenes that demand pageantry and flamboyance, however, that the production fails to sustain energy and the requisite joie de vie—a result of both the blocking and the lack of bodies to fill the company's main stage.
Although lengthy by present day standards, the tale of Cyrano remains a compelling testament to a hero who understood the art in everyday living and dying, and this production, while not stellar, is entertaining and, ultimately, cathartic.
The Denver Center Theatre Company's production of Cyrano de Bergerac runs through November 3rd. 303-893-4100.