Cyrano by Jo Roets, freely adapted from Edmond Rostandís Cyrano deBergerac. Directed by Lenard Petit
Reviewed by J. Peter Bergman
" a hippocampelephantocamelus!"
Melania Levitsky as Cyrano and David Anderson as Roxanne; photo: Iva Peele
Benedicta Bertau as deGuiche; photo: Iva Peele
Rostandís Cyrano deBergerac is one of my favorite plays so any new version must face my deep familiarity with the material and with my memories of earlier productions, including the 1950 film version of the Broadway stage edition starring Jose Ferrer, and the 1974 Broadway play with music starring Christopher Plummer. Both actors received Tony Awards for their performances of the roles, and justifiably so. Both are brilliant. Ferrer also won the Academy Award for this role.
So it was with some fear and trepidation that I approached Walking the Dog Theaterís new production performed by three actors in a single, 90 minute act. I had read that the entire cast was cross-dressing, women playing men and men women. I had heard that the new translation/adaptation removed much of the bite and dark humor of the play leaving it on the frothy and silly side. I went prepared to suffer the changes. But I went.
What I found was a light and humorous edition of Cyrano played with an unusual amount of self-assurance, considering the sexual confusions of the performing troupe. They had the confidence of their decisions and, under the deft direction of Lenard Petit, created a new theater piece that both charmed and delighted me. I applaud heartily their enthusiasm and their courage. Of course, they didnít know they were coming up against historically-anchored me when they made these choices.
Jo Roets script whittles away some of the longer, more intense scenes of the play leaving the story at the core of the tale intact and adding elements of fun and mystery that arenít always evident in fuller productions of this work. Artistic director of the Flemish theater company, Laika, he is renowned for his reduced classical stories, taking a comic or playful tone. Here the concept works admirably.
In the central role of Cyrano, the heroic, if proboscis-challenged Gascon soldier, is actor Melania Levitsky. As all of the other men in the play, including the villainous Baron de Guiche and the romantic idol Baron Christian deNeuvelette is the companyís Producing Artistic Director Benedicta Bertau. David Anderson, Executive Artistic Director, plays the beautiful heroine, Roxanne and a few other minor characters. Each of them, in his or her way, manages to bring strength and believability to their respective roles.
Levitsky is the best of the three. Her swordsmanship and her romantic qualities work very well in this role. She is a "tenor", rather than a baritone, but her manliness is unshakeable. She handles the physical comedy and the physical tragedy inherent in the part with equal abilities. Her final scene, the romantic heart of the play, was beautifully played, with not a laugh in it, not even with her monstrously marvelous makeup.
Bertau is a fine Christian, a terrific Raguenau and an almost perfect de Guiche. In the faux wedding scene she is at her best in the latter role. At other times her characterís unpleasantness is missing, but here, in this one scene, she shines like a copper penny, newly rubbed.
Andersonís work as Roxanne is generally fine. He, bedecked in a blonde curls, never quite makes us believe heís a woman, and yet there is a gentleness apparent that allows us to accept him in the role. His flirtatious moments are his best until, again, that final scene of understanding and recognition which was lovingly played.
The physical space in which the company plays out this edition of Cyrano is an old factory building down near the railroad tracks in Hudson. The high brick walls, the temporary sense of the stage, the intrusive sounds of the outside world give the performance a certain unique sensibility: a European traveling troupe setting up a temporary performance space in your town. This works to the good to the evening and makes it so much more worthwhile for an audience not accustomed to the grander language of a Rostand. And I mustnít forget the wonderful sword fight in which Cyrano demolishes a hundred foes in full sight of the audience, rather than in a monologue describing it. A wonderful moment, surely, in an evening that surprises and delights.
Walking the Dog Theater performs Cyrano at the Bassilica Industria, on South Front Street in Hudson, New York (just past the long-term parking lot at the Amtrak Station) through July 15. Tickets are $10-$20. For a schedule of performances and tickets, call: 518-755-1716 or visit their website at www.wtdtheater.org.