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Oakland Tribune, August 4, 2005


There's no disguising love for 'Cyrano'

--By Chad Jones, STAFF WRITER


ROMANCE IS alive and well in Berkeley this summer.

For its ninth free summer park show, Shotgun Players present "Cyrano de Bergerac" starring the ultimate romantic in a lively mix of clashing rapiers and rapier wit.

Edmond Rostand's 19th-century play has been extensively streamlined and retranslated by Charles Marowitz. Gone is the epic sweep of Musketeers, advancing armies and romance set against the backdrop of colossal battle. But the deft language, humor and bleeding-heart romance are still very much in place.

Clive Worsley, a longtime Shotgun Player, is Cyrano, a man as famous for his fancy swordplay as for the length of his nose. In terms of his dueling ability, he is known as "the king of cats with the longest, sharpest claws." And then there's the protruding proboscis, which Cyrano himself says is "not flat, snub, wee, pert or aquiline."

"A great nose is the emblem of a great man," he says.

His is the "nose that launched a thousand sniffs," and it is a "carrying case for a trombone."

You get the idea. The guy has a big nose, and indeed, Worsley is outfitted with a sturdy putty promontory smack in the middle of his face.

But even better, Worsley has a great feel for Cyrano's dueling personality traits: his considerable intelligence, wit and heart often in battle with the crushing insecurity brought on by his physiognomy.

In truth, even with the fake nose, Worsley is still an attractive man, especially when spouting Cyrano's wonderful dialogue. But for the sake of the play, we have to believe that Cyrano is ugly and therefore doomed to live a lonely life no matter how hard he pines for the lovely Roxane (Gwen Larsen, who is truly lovely).

With a plot that has been ripped off a million times (most expertly in Steve Martin's movie "Roxanne"), Cyrano valiantly helps his handsome but empty-headed friend Christian (Andy Alabran) woo Roxane. At first Cyrano simply composes beautiful love letters, but in a balcony scene almost as famous as the one in "Romeo and Juliet," Cyrano actually pretends to be Christian and pours out his true feelings to Roxane, who can't see him down below in the dark.

This scene is rather awkwardly staged in director Joanie McBrien's production at John Hinkel Park in Berkeley, which was almost full to capacity last Saturday. Larsen is stuck on a hillside to the left of and almost behind the amphitheater audience, while Worsley is on the ground in the central performance area.

It's easier — and more rewarding — to watchWorsley, but it would be nice to see both actors in this pivotal scene.

Worsely's considerable energy and panache go a long way toward keeping this "Cyrano" afloat. Pacing problems, especially during scene changes, prolong the play unnecessarily, though Dina Maccabee's violin playing is a pleasant distraction.

Cast member Dave Maier has choreographed some zesty swordfights sure to please swashbucklers both young and old, and some robust comic performances come from supporting players Fontana Butterfield (as a pickpocket, a cheating wife and a daffy nun), Jared Dager (as a hammy actor) and Matthew Purdon and Eric Burns as Cyrano's loyal friends.

Toward the end of the 2 1/2-hour play, Rostand really lathers on the pathos as he jumps the play 14 years into the future for a conveniently (and highly unbelievable) moment in Cyrano and Roxane's relationship.

But if you've given yourself over to the spirit of the play, which is easy to do, the final scene is liable to wring a tear or two.

Rostand's theory that the soul is everything and appearances nothing is still a hard sell more than a century after he made Cyrano the ugliest beauty in Western drama. To fully invest in Cyrano's plight, don't bring any of that fashionable 21st-century cynicism to the park. Bring wine, roses and a pure heart instead.

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