`Cyrano' shows effort, but needs work

Shakespeare Festival opts for ambitious play


July 15, 2002|By J. Wynn Rousuck | J. Wynn Rousuck,SUN THEATER CRITIC

Not unlike the handsome soldier who falls in love with a beautiful woman but doesn't know the words to woo her in Cyrano de Bergerac, the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's production of Edmund Rostand's classic play is an effort whose ambition exceeds its abilities.

It's a valiant effort and one that features a few strong key performances. But like its title character, this is a play that needs to be brimming with, to borrow Cyrano's word, "panache" and style. A number of factors countermand that in director Joe Brady's al fresco presentation in the Evergreen House meadow.

Among the chief detriments on opening night were slow scene changes that probably added 15-20 minutes to the nearly three-hour running time (an awfully long stretch for an audience to spend sprawled on the ground). Nor did it help that there were several instances of muffed lines, or that the crowd scenes frequently looked amateurish, an especially unfortunate shortcoming for a company with professional aspirations.

FOR THE RECORD - In Monday's Today section, an incorrect date was provided for the final performance of the Baltimore Shakespeare Festival's production of Cyrano de Bergerac. The run ends July 28.

On the plus side, Jeanne Dillon delivers a touching portrayal of Roxanne, the woman who wins the hearts of not only homely Cyrano and the handsome soldier, Christian, but also the villainous Comte de Guiche. In addition to embodying Roxanne's loveliness, Dillon makes it clear that Roxanne is Cyrano's intellectual equal; the actress lets us see her character's sharp mind at work when she devises stratagems to hold de Guiche at bay.

Tim Marrone's de Guiche is also adeptly portrayed. Although de Guiche is the heavy of the piece, Marrone resists the impulse to overplay him, and in the process he makes the character's eventual mellowing easier to accept.

As comely Christian, a man of ample beauty but paltry brain, Adam Brooks Mondschein has boyish charm. He plays Christian as a man so thoroughly smitten with Roxanne, it's no wonder that he readily agrees to let Cyrano write the verses required to court her -- without thinking of the long-term ramifications.

Brady does a nice job staging the famous scene outside Roxanne's window. Unable to convincingly speak Cyrano's words, tongue-tied Christian gives in and lets Cyrano speak for him under cover of darkness -- and at times, while hiding under Cyrano's cloak.

As to the crucial role of Cyrano, James Kinstle (the festival's artistic director) takes his cue from the character's line: "My success is achieved/Only by excess." It's a logical approach to this larger-than-life swashbuckling poet, but to be truly affecting, even excess needs to be tempered. And though Kinstle does have some milder moments, his overall performance lacks sufficient modulation. Even Cyrano's death scene is played too robustly.

The Shakespeare Festival is using Anthony Burgess' translation for this production, and while cuts have been made in the five-act drama, the pace is still far from swift. Designer Robert Marietta's fairly elaborate sets contribute to the sluggishness; it takes much too long to transform the theater set for the first act into the bakery set for the second into Roxanne's house for the third, etc. Less literalness and more suggestion would improve the production on several levels.

This audacious local company has chosen an even more daunting play for its next production; it plans to mount Hamlet in the Evergreen meadow in September. Judging from its current endeavor, the troupe has a ways to go before mastering that formidable text.

Cyrano de Bergerac

Where: Baltimore Shakespeare Festival at Evergreen House meadow, 4545 N. Charles St.

When: 7 p.m. Thursdays-Saturdays, 5 p.m. Sundays. Through July 21

Tickets: $15

Call: 410-837-4143

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