Contra Costa Times, August 23, 2005
Shotgun players' 'Cyrano' relevant
-- By Susan Kuchinskas
It turns out that a 17th century swordsman/poet has plenty to say to modern
men and women living in the era of American Idol. And the Shotgun Players'
Cyrano de Bergerac wrings every bit of relevance out of this French play
about unrequited love.
You may know the basic premise: a guy with an ugly schnozz and a way with
words agrees to write the ardent letters that let a handsome young rival woo
the woman he too loves. Edmond Rostand wrote Cyrano in 1897, but a
contemporary translation by Charles Marowitz keeps all the courtly flavor
while giving enough punch to the language that its humor and passion seem of
the moment. The Shotgun Players play this one straight: swords, banners and
boots. The actors even trained in swordplay, and there are several
realistic-looking duels and fights.
The outdoor amphitheater at John Hinkel Park, a hidden Berkeley treasure,
gives the actors plenty of room to stride about, and they make good use of
it, sometimes playing from the audience or disappearing up the hill.
Director Joanie McBrien conflated some of the characters to fit the troupe,
and it's always fun to see the actors reinvent themselves as each plays
several minor characters.
The real Cyrano would have fit right into today's Berkeley. He was a writer,
satirist and poet who, when he wasn't insulting everyone from the nobility
to phony artists and pretentious academics, wrote utopian science fiction.
As played by Clive Worsley, Cyrano is an anti-hero for our time: cynical,
bitter, lonely, thwarted by his own uncompromising idealism. Gwen Larsen's
Roxane, the object of his adulation, is a sweet young thing. It's probably
unfair, given the script, to wish her character's intellect could be dialed
up a bit. Although she's described as intelligent and literate, Roxane seems
more a lover of fancy phrases than a serious and discerning woman equal to
Cyrano's wit. It's too easy to understand why Cyrano would believe she'd
spurn him in favor of Christian, a handsome airhead played by Andy Alabran.
Cyrano is too honest for his own good -- except where it counts. He makes
enemies everywhere with his sharp tongue, but he can't bring himself to
declare his love for Roxane. Instead, he puts his words into Christian's
mouth, where they quickly charm her.
Refusing to betray his sense of honor -- and his pride -- Cyrano lives out
his life in poverty, with only a couple of true friends who constantly plead
with him to tell Roxane the truth. He almost convinces himself, with his
fervid soliloquies in aid of Christian, that he should meet life boldly. But
when it comes to love, he cannot.
There's plenty of comedy around the central tragedy. In one of the funniest
scenes, Christian tries to goad Cyrano into a duel by interrupting every
sentence Cyrano begins, perverting each into a reference to his nose. Only
as he dies does Cyrano learn the play's central truths: Be yourself, be
honest and seize the day. These are lessons many of us still are attempting
to master, and the Shotgun Players' Cyrano is a fine tutorial.