In the winter of 2007, the Buffalo Laboratory Theatre opened its doors in Hamburg.
Housed in the William E. Swan Auditorium on the campus of Hilbert College, the experimental theater company has produced a handful of classics and new works to enthusiastic responses from audiences.
Denizens of the Buffalo theater scene have a compelling reason to make the trek to Hamburg -- not exactly a theatrical nerve center -- where a delightful production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" is now under way. The show opened Friday night and runs through Saturday.
The production succeeds by virtue of its lightly adorned simplicity and its mastery of the the psychological and physical elements of acting we too rarely see in modern productions, where design elements like costumes and video projections often shoulder more then their share of responsibility. Not so in this production of "Cyrano," which captivates from start to finish thanks to the largely inspired and highly quirky performances of its small cast.
Taylor Doherty, Buffalo Laboratory Theatre founder and artistic director, takes on the role of our hero, Cyrano de Bergerac, the uncommonly gallant soldier and eloquent poet whose otherwise soaring confidence is crippled in the pursuit of love by his absurdly large nose. He lusts after the comely young Roxane (played by the artist currently known as Golde), whose attentions are focused, tragically for our hero, on the dimwitted but attractive young cadet Christian de Neuvillette, played with aplomb by the versatile and talented Ray Boucher.
The whole affair is narrated by a smiling, almost ethereal Bonnie Jean Taylor ("Triangles" at Road Less Traveled Productions and "Inside Out: A Dansical" at TheatrePlus), who lends an added measure of wonderment and levity to a play already wondrously funny. She also gives us a curious if not exactly perfectly executed dance interlude, which comes in at just the right moment to provide an amusing bit of respite from the breathless performance.
Boucher also takes on the roles of the vile and rotund Deguiche, who pines for the hand of Roxane, and various other characters. His performances are all solidly over the top and all the more fun to watch for that reason. This is in opposition to Doherty's stoic but expressive Cyrano, whom he animates with the skill and confidence of a seasoned actor.
Director Paula Westinghouse keeps this adaptation -- which expertly condenses five acts into one -- moving along at a steady gallop. She also infuses it with compelling flourishes of physical theater, including an early fight sequence that plays out in graceful (and bloody) slow motion.
Live music by David Wasik and James Sturm augments the DIY atmosphere of the production quite well, as does lighting design by Steven J. Fox, minimal sets by Sturm and Brian Rivers, and costumes, hair and makeup by Anne Kurtis.
For those intimately familiar with the story of stifled love at the heart of Edmond Rostand's oft-performed 1897 play, this production is a refreshing take on a classic script. And for the uninitiated, it provides a magnificent point of entry.
"Cyrano de Bergerac"
3 1/2 stars (out of 4)
Presented by Buffalo Laboratory Theatre through Saturday in the William E. Swan Auditorium of Hilbert College, 5200 South Park Ave., Hamburg.
For information: www.buffalolabtheatre.org or 949-4082.