Center Stage's amiable 'Cyrano'

3-person adaptation of Rostand resonates with message of self-acceptance

January 21, 2010|By Tim Smith | tim.smith@baltsun.com

It's harder than ever to prove that beauty is only skin-deep, since so much skin is routinely nipped, tucked, exfoliated, moisturized and colorized, all at enormous expense, in the eternal quest for looking hot. But the message of self-acceptance espoused so nobly more than a century ago in Edmond Rostand's play about the nasally gifted Cyrano de Bergerac can still resonate today, if given half a chance.

Resonate it does in "Cyrano," an adaptation of Rostand's original five acts currently getting a breezy treatment at Center Stage, part of the company's "Short Work" series, and presented in the Head Theater. (Am I the only one who finds the cramped seating arrangement in that space miserable?)

Although the three-person abridgment by Belgian actor/director/playwright Jo Roets doesn't clock in at the advertised 60-minute length - it's more like 80 - this exercise in condensation maintains tautness, for the most part, as it crams in essential characters and events. Naturally, some nuances and plot twists disappear, but the fundamentals remain intact. This is not a throwaway, slam-bam version of a familiar tale. It aims higher.

The play might hit the mark more forcefully if the prose had a greater quotient of poetic meat. Whether the Roets original or the English translation used here is chiefly responsible, I couldn't say, but the language heard onstage rarely sings - a significant shortcoming in a work that's all about the emotive power of words. Even in the famous balcony scene, when Cyrano jumps up to impersonate the tongue-tied Christian in wooing the lovely Roxane, much of the dialogue is about as flat as a text message.

That said, the likable cast goes the extra mile to animate the material and, in the pivotal romantic scenes, to give it expressive weight. The effort pays off.

Manu Narayan makes an especially effective Cyrano, lithe and natural of gesture, and he puts a consistently telling spin on his lines. In the exchange between Cyrano and Roxane, when he's impatiently expecting her to utter his name as the one she secretly loves, Narayan even gets delectable results just from the way he utters "uh."

The actor's stylish phrasing infuses the balcony scene with a touching quality; same for the finale, when the truth of Cyrano's sacrifice finally emerges.

Luke Robertson, who had a good romp as Algernon in "The Importance of Being Earnest" at Center Stage earlier this season, brings a winning charm and physicality to the role of Christian. Among other assignments, he also does amusing turns as the pompous, Roxane-pursuing nobleman, Count de Guiche, going into wonderful, pretzel-like contortions and adopting a curious accent, part-French, part-American-Southern.

In the role of Roxane (not quite as colorfully written as the others), Sarah Grace Wilson offers an engaging, straightforward portrayal and gets into the spirit of the proceedings with flair.

Part of that spirit comes from the use of old-time radio tricks; the performers frequently grab a variety of props to generate sound effects - thunder, clomping feet, etc. That bit of aural/visual shtick adds to the wry humor in the play, which unfolds seamlessly on Caleb Wertenbaker's fun set (the military campsite scene materializes in a particularly neat flash).

Except for the very opening - a drawn-out bit of applause-seeking moves by the actors - David Schweizer directs the action with a good deal of style and momentum. And the original music by Ryan Rumery adds considerable atmosphere to the amiable production.

If you go
"Cyrano" runs through Feb. 7 at Center Stage, 700 N. Calvert St. Tickets are $10 to $35. Call 410-332-0033 or go to centerstage.org.

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