Taylor Doherty can pinpoint the precise moment he fell in love with the stage.
It was during a 1985 production of Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie” at the former Studio Arena Theatre, when Doherty was a teenager. As he sat near the back-right corner of the theater with his family and Williams’ words washed over him, a spotlight clicked on in his brain.
“I could feel it being life-changing,” Doherty said in a nervous whisper during a recent interview inside the rechristened 710 Main Theatre as stagehands prepared the set for his production of “Cyrano” opening Thursday night. “At the moment, I said, this is kind of what I want to do. You know?”
Tonight, Doherty will step onto that hallowed stage as the director and star of his own production, a stripped-down and retooled version of the classic tale about a man crippled by his insecurities. The show, which includes live music and gasp-inducing aerial ballet (think of Pink’s recent performance at the Grammys), centers on the poet and sword-fighter Cyrano de Bergerac, whose self-consciousness about his enormous nose prevents him from finding the true love he so desperately seeks.
Doherty first played the character in a 2010 production at his own Buffalo Laboratory Theatre, a small but popular company based at Hilbert College in Hamburg, where he teaches theater. Doherty’s “Cyrano,” he said, is a greatly boiled down version of Edmond Rostand’s original 1897 play, a five-act behemoth loaded with references that wouldn’t register with audiences today.
“I had 30-some students in my intro to theater class. Not a one knew who Cyrano was. Isn’t that sad?” Doherty said. “They hate the play so much. It is so much a representation of its time with references to 19th century historical figures and subplots that nobody gets at this juncture in history. It’s three and a half hours long and five acts.”
His production is an attempt to dispense with all those fusty subplots and creaky references and drive straight to the emotional heart of the story. And that beating heart lies in the character of Cyrano, a man who is instantly relatable to almost anyone who has had self-esteem issues.
“If you have some poor 16-year-old kid sitting in the audience,” Doherty said, perhaps thinking back on his own 16-year-old self, “I hope somewhere in there they can say to themselves, ‘God, I am going through something similar. I don’t have a nose like that, but I am in the exact same spot. The girl sitting next to me that I’m on the field trip with, I would love to be able to just talk to her and I can’t. I’m terrified. Because what if she laughs at me?’ ”
By folding in live music and aerial dance, performed by Doherty’s longtime collaborator Kathleen Golde, the production aims to give audiences multiple routes into the story.
“It’s sort of the quintessential Romantic play,” Doherty said. “So the aerial fabric for me, being representative of (Cyrano’s) ink on the page, is letting the audience get swept up in a nonverbal, nonintellectual way into the story, hopefully vaguely like the experience of love, where you don’t intellectualize it and don’t sit there and think about logic.”
If Doherty had any insecurities himself about transporting a relatively bare-bones production from his small Buffalo Laboratory Theatre in Hamburg to the 625-seat house of 710 Main, he’s managed to shed them. He credited Shea’s President and CEO Anthony Conte with embracing the show and including it in the first full subscription season in the space since Studio Arena closed in 2007.
Doherty launched his Buffalo Laboratory Theatre in 2008. Since then, the company has produced a string of popular and critically well-regarded productions, gradually building an audience for itself and a reputation in the region’s theater community.
And while the prospect of selling enough tickets to break even on the show’s three-week run in a storied downtown theater is daunting, it’s worth it for Doherty to return to the place where his love for theater was born.
“To be able to, after all that time, come back to this space and do this show that I feel very strongly about personally and I think reaches people on an emotional level very strongly, it was an easy sell for me despite the financial risks.”