The title character of Cyrano de Bergerac tells his audience that a great nose makes a great man. The Cyrano in this Loeb Mainstage production certainly has a great nose, and is certainly a great man.
But that greatness might be due more to actor Kevin Connell's brilliant characterization than to any appendage.
This play successfully retells the classic love story of a valiant soldier with a magnificent heart to match his nose. It succeeds because the character of Cyrano is so richly cultivated by Connell.
The role of Cyrano is indubitably one a talented actor could cultivate. Few other productions afford an actor the opportunity to portray an adept swordsmen, a hero of battle, a wit of court society and a lover all in the span of two hours.
Connell's acting ability does the complex and exciting role justice. Loving and tender one minute, brash and forceful the next, his performance has incredible emotional range. And Connell insures that Cyrano's boisterous wit is constant through all vicissitudes. His wit infects the charmed audience which cannot help but cheer for him as he abides by his personal motto to "live as I please."
Connell also effortlessly displays the physical agility that is one of Cyrano's hallmarks. He duels skillfully on stage and in the theatre aisles, both with human enemies and the spectres of his own insecurities.
But the play and Connell are at their best when the hero confronts his seemingly futile love for the beautiful Roxane. Cyrano is certain she will scorn him if he reveals his true feelings for her because, despite his bravado, he is monstrously insecure about the nose "which marches before him a quarter of an hour."
Because of the insecurity and subsequent silence of Cyrano, his interaction with Roxane is only vicarious. He expresses his love for her by wooing her on behalf of the handsome but inarticulate Christian de Neuvillette.
Cyrano composes the lyrics that de Neuvillette cannot. He articulates the sentiments that de Neuvillette feels but cannot express to the woman he adores. Cyrano counsels de Neuvillette to "take my words and turn to facts my fantasies." Roxane, already enamoured of de Neuvillette's good looks, instantly falls in love with the fantasies Cyrano pens on behalf of de Neuvillette.
The lovers' triangle that develops is the most engaging thread in the patch-work of plots woven through Cyrano de Bergerac. Here the magnitude of Connell's stage presence proves to be a double-edged sword--it tends to overshadow the other performances in the play. Supporting players Eisa Davis and Tim Krochuk give consistently strong performances, but they are only occasionally able to shine through Connell's propensity to eclipse all others who share the stage with him.
Davis plays a spirited Roxane. Her ability is best evinced in the second act, when her characterization liberates Roxane from the beautiful-woman-falls-for-handsome-man stereotype. Davis appears genuinely moved when she thoughtfully, tremulously reads the love letters she receives.
As de Neuvillette, Krochuk turns a potentially defeating role--that of an inarticulate lover--into a triumph. In a moment of revelation, shortly before his death in battle, de Neuvillette courageously declares that Roxane really loves Cyrano. Krochuk has, throughout the play, convincingly played the lover struck dumb. But his character's powerful realization allows Krochuk to command the stage in a way he could not before.
"She loves my soul. She loves you and you love her too," de Neuvillette tells Cyrano, and for a moment, his eloquence eclipses the poetic Cyrano. Krochuk effectively conveys the pain of the realization; his body shakes as his voice rises in hurt.
There is a great deal of emotional power inherent in the script of Cyrano de Bergerac. Director Zoe Mulford has done an admirable job of channeling the actors energy into a believeable emotional intensity. But all this intensity unfolds in a woefully uninspiring set. The scarce props lack artistic merit and serve only the most basic of functions.
Fortunately, the audience's attention is drawn away from the skeletal set by the activity in the theatre aisles. The play's staging is masterful. Actors to move freely throughout the theatre as they engage in chases and battles, enveloping the audience in the action.
But despite the commotion around them, the interest of the entire audience undoubtedly rests with the main character as he engages in his peculiar battles of the mind and heart.
In the final scene, Cyrano announces that, upon his death, his salute "Will sweep all the stars from the heavens." With a set of strong supporting players and well-executed staging as a spring-board, Connell's talent--which breathes life into Cyrano--is able to do just that.