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Review: Cyrano

City Lights Theater Company bores into the essence of the famous romantic in 'Frank Langella's Cyrano'

CITY LIGHTS Theater Company’s latest production, Frank Langella’s Cyrano, may be light on the costuming, but it’s heavy on the drama. Last season, City Light’s version of The Three Musketeers was surprisingly popular, and it’s obvious that the company wanted to repeat that success with another swashbuckler.

Edmond Rostand’s classic Cyrano de Bergerac is the sort of theater that tends to get lumped in with other historical French adventures like Musketeers; thematically, though, they are completely different beasts. While the Alexandre Dumas classic is principally a coming-of-age story centering on d’Artagnan, the unusually large-nosed Cyrano is a much more tragic figure in a story of unrequited love and loss.

In an unusual turn, this adaptation by actor Frank Langella is staged as if it were a dress rehearsal. Director Kit Wilder chose to strip down the sumptuous sets, elaborate period garb and crowded cast list of the traditional play. Though they wield rapiers, these boastful swordsmen are clad in jeans, street clothes and sweatpants accented with cheesy pirate hats, floppy boots and crushed velvet capes that look like they were bought at the Halloween store.

This is all intentional, according to Wilder’s production notes, because they are supposed to be actors trying out their parts in Cyrano de Bergerac for the first time. Excusing the fact that this is exactly the sort of self-referential trick that probably only really appeals to theater folk—and helps avoid the high cost of a real period piece—once it found its stride, the nontraditional concept actually functioned pretty well.

Set on a sparse stage adorned in theater-house brick, curtains and rope, Cyrano (played by San Jose’s ComedySportz founder Jeff Kramer) bursts onto the scene flaunting his colossal olfactory organ and biting wit. This warrior poet with a schnozz inferiority complex is a challenging character to portray for any actor, if only because he speaks almost entirely in long, drawn-out soliloquies.

While Kramer’s acting seemed stilted at first, it grew more fluid as the play progressed. He may have a standup comedy background, but in this performance Kramer seemed his strongest when portraying the more serious, lovelorn side of Cyrano.

This aspect of Cyrano is opposed to the wisecracking jovial incarnation that helps the handsome, ripped but painfully ineloquent Christian (Joshua Marx, who bears a striking resemblance to David Tennant of Dr. Who fame) woo the lovely Roxane with words.

As the love object of the play’s men, Roxane (a fiery Sarah Griner) is pretty much a one-dimensional character. Griner played up her more irritating, narcissistic elements, making it glaringly obvious that, besides her looks, the self-centered Roxane really isn’t deserving of the lifetime of admiration she receives from Cyrano, Christian and the scheming Count De Guiche (played by Charles McKeithan).

Other parts include Shareen Merriam as Roxane’s fuddy-duddy matron Marguerite, Steve Lambert as the drunken pastry chef Ragueneau, Lucinda Dobinson as the mute servant girl Lise and Ron Talbot as Cyrano’s buddy Le Bret.
Though the play’s choreographed swordplay and action went off without a hitch on the night I attended, the lighting design by Brendan Bartholomew was a different story. Perhaps it was part of the “play within a play” concept, but the stage seemed noticeably dim during several pivotal scenes, with the lights inexplicably diminishing then coming back more than once for no apparent theatrical reason.

Costume design was by Jane Lambert, but, again, it was “themed” very casual. Even if it was part of the concept, the actors kept pulling on their capes to keep them from slipping down their shoulders, which became distracting after a while.

FRANK LANGELLA’S CYRANO, a City Lights Theater Company production, plays Thursday–Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 2 (April 11 and 18) or 7pm (March 28), through April 18 at 529 S. Second St., San Jose. Tickets are $25–$40. (408.295.4200)