That Cyrano de Bergerac is so well-known and so well-liked does not make staging it any easier. Still, the seven-member Aquila Theatre troupe rose to the occasion in their production of the classic before a full house at CSUN's Plaza Del Sol Performance Hall on Saturday night.
A key to the success of Edmond Rostand's 1897 play is casting a lead with both a solid sense of comic timing and the ability to sell an achingly tragic story of unrequited love. Jamie Bower, who plays Cyrano, was up to the challenge, brash and brilliant at times and achingly frustrated at others.
The play, based loosely on the real life of French dramatist and duelist de Bergerac (1619 - 1655), is about a tag team romance in which both Cyrano and Christian de Neuvillette (Aaron McDaniel) are smitten with love for Cyrano's cousin, Roxane (Caroline O'Hara). Neither, however, has what it takes to win her hand.
Cyrano, one of the noblest and wittiest characters ever to grace the stage, has a supersized nose and a conviction that his shnozz makes him repellant to all women, and particularly Roxane. Christian, though conventionally handsome, is inarticulate when it comes to expressing love.
Believing that his wit and poetry can never compensate for his freakish nose, Cyrano resolves to supply the words Christian needs to woo Roxane. "It's the poet's dream," Cyrano explains to Christian. "I will make you eloquent. You will make me handsome."
The deception works, to an extent, but the truth has a way of emerging at crucial times and in unexpected ways, leading to several poignant scenes.
In the Aquila Theatre production, Bower gets strong support from the two actors whose characters complete the love triangle. McDaniel's Christian, though no mental match for Cyrano, is nonetheless caring and compassionate. O'Hara's Roxane, though initially swayed by Christian's outer beauty, matures into a woman of substance. The three of them feed off each other's energy.
Desiree Sanchez elicits strong performances from a cast that, in many cases, is asked to double up on the roles they play. While using women to play soldiers is a little jarring, it is never a distraction. Meanwhile, some, such as James Lavender, get the opportunity to shine in two distinctly different roles.
Sanchez pays admirable attention to the broad sweep of the play as well as the small details. Once set in motion, the play moves at a brisk pace. Supporting actors get license to exaggerate their characters but only within the context of the larger story of love and sacrifice. More than that would take the play out of the realm of dramedy and turn it into farce.
The set is sparse but nonetheless effective. Locations are established with the help of images projected onto a single large square-shaped screen. It is surprising how this simple arrangement translates into a strong enough sense of place.
And while playing Edith Piaf's recording of Milord during intermission didn't add much to the show's authenticity, it was nonetheless appreciated.