Chicago Theatre Review
A Winner By a Nose
Cyrano de Bergerac – Chicago Shakespeare Theatre
Chicago Shakespeare Theater has been continually branching out each season to include international classical and noteworthy contemporary plays and musicals, in addition to those penned by the Bard. Edmond Rostand’s most famous work about a real-life French nobleman, poet and musician with an oversized nose is currently enjoying a lush production on CST’s three quarter-round Courtyard Stage. The play succeeds both because and in spite of its production elements.
Director Penny Metropulos, returns from Oregon Shakespeare Festival after her overwhelming successes here with “The Two Gentlemen of Verona” and her multi Jeff-honored “The Madness of George III.” Once again she partners with her Jeff Award-winning leading actor, Broadway’s Harry Groener, to play the title role, bringing new life and energy to Anthony Burgess’ translation of the Rostand classic. When Groener is the focus of this production the play is everything it should be. Groener, under Ms. Metropulos‘ guidance, delivers each line of poetry as naturally as if it were everyday speech. He mines every golden ounce of comedy and subtle humor from his portrayal, while still able to bring honesty to Cyrano’s moments of melancholy, loneliness and unrequited love. Beyond that, Mr. Groener also proves to be quite the accomplished swordsman, thanks to Rick Sordelet’s expertly devised fight choreography. In short, Harry Groener is the perfect Cyrano and should start dusting off a shelf for one more Best Actor Award.
Not as impressive, however, is Julie Jesnick’s Roxane, Cyrano’s distant cousin and the object of his love and devotion. The actress has the necessary fire and anger when needed, but seldom is any love evident for either of the two gentlemen involved in literature’s most famous love triangle. The chemistry simply isn’t there. In Cyrano’s final scene, when the audience feels deeply for the dying, anguished hero, there is little emotion for his lady love. When, at that moment, Roxane finally realizes that love goes beyond physical beauty, stirring the emotions and intellect as well, the audience never believes her tears.
Not entirely as unsuccessful in his characterization is Nick Dillenburg’s Christian, the handsome young cadet who’s captured Roxane’s eye. Because Christian is not supposed to be as verbally or intellectually eloquent as Cyrano, his new friend and mentor, the audience can excuse some of his inattentive stiffness. But there simply is no electricity, no real passion between the two younger lovers. The love triangle, around which most of this play revolves, is unbalanced and seems to rest almost entirely upon Groener’s shoulders, as Cyrano.
Stronger actors in this production range from Sean Fortunato’s portrayal of Cyrano’s deeply caring friend, Le Bret; Ross Lehman’s delightful baker friend to Cyrano, Ragueneau; William Dick’s roles as the outspoken Theater Patron and the busy body Capuchin Monk; Ryan Bourque’s headstrong Viscount Valvert; and the hilarious Wendy Robie, always welcome in any production, as both Roxane’s Duenna and Mother Superior. A very welcome new addition to the CST family is Aloysius Gigl as the villanous Count de Guiche. Articulate, cunning, leering and threatening, Mr. Gigl resists all the usual stock posing and histrionics of an antagonist and instead plays his character’s many layers. He is very much Harry Groener’s counterpart and in their relationship rests much of this production’s power and passion.
Additionally, the icing on this seventeenth century confection is supplied by several theatre artists. Kevin Depinet’s beautiful towering wooden set design of movable staircases, balconies and beams is bathed in Jesse Klug’s romantic lighting. Susan E. Mickey’s sumptuous period costumes and Melissa Veal’s wig designs easily transport the audience to France in the mid-1600‘s. And the inclusion of three talented on-stage musicians, who also happen to act, add yet another level of bliss to this elegant production that offers all the pomp and pageantry of the time.
While Cyrano’s story is ultimately sad and lamentable, there is much humor and humanity to Penny Metropolus‘ production. An enormous amount of her success, however, is her collaboration with her terrific lead, Harry Groener, so flawless in the title role, and supported by a large cast and scores of theatre artisans making Rostand’s play a fragrant rose.
Reviewed by Colin Douglas
Presented Sept. 24-Nov. 10 in the Courtyard Theatre by Chicago Shakespeare Theater at Navy Pier, Chicago.
Tickets are available by calling 312-595-5600 or by visiting www.chicagoshakes.com.
Additional information about this and other area productions can be found at www.theatreinchicago.com.