The title character in Edmond Rostand’s tragicomic play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” now playing in a swift but self-conscious production in the 710 Main Theatre, is horribly deformed.
Not on the outside – despite the fact that this Renaissance man with rapier wit and an actual rapier to match was born with a nose that puts Pinnochio’s to shame. Cyrano’s real deformity lies deep in his own soul, a place where all the tiny insecurities of his young life have simmered into a potent syrup of self-loathing.
That crippling internal deformity, which drives Cyrano to great acts of courage but ultimately spells his doom, comes into painfully sharp focus in the hands of Taylor Doherty, the director and star of the production. Across two brisk acts, he and his gifted cast have compressed what might have been a yawn-inducing foray into historical obscurity into a story likely to register on some level with every contemporary theatergoer.
Doherty’s Hamburg company, the ambitious Buffalo Laboratory Theatre, first mounted an innovative production of the play featuring live music and aerial ballet in 2010. It has expanded that show for its first foray into downtown Buffalo and its first collaboration with the revived 710 Main Theatre.
In the interest of blowing the dust off the play and making it accessible to new audiences, the company cut the title to “Cyrano” and chopped down its four-hour length to match. BLT’s lithe and simple production runs only about two hours with intermission and strips away anything that might obscure the beating heart of the story.
There is one major flaw, however, that is likely to put off veteran theatergoers: With tongue far too much in cheek, Doherty has insisted on placing Rostand’s classic tale in self-conscious brackets. In that way, his production suffers from an insecurity that mirrors its central character’s affliction.
As the show opens, bright-eyed narrator Katie White begins a lovely reflection on the venue – the former home of Studio Arena – and the spirit of great actors who once tread its hallowed boards. But it soon becomes an overwritten love letter to the art of theater – the transformative beauty of stage lights, the virtues of theatrical simplicity – where a simple nod and a wink would have done.
With the narration, Doherty takes pains not to not to talk down to his audience, but he winds up doing so in spite of himself.
For these reasons, this production may be more suitable for high school ages and others without a great deal of theatergoing under their belts. Its hero, the gallant and funny Cyrano, is a 17th century embodiment of the timeless affliction of young men and women of any time: insecurity. His enormous nose presents its challenges, but it’s also a convenient excuse to back away from a challenge. That challenge comes in the form of the young and beautiful Roxanne, Cyrano’s distant cousin and longtime friend with whom he’s fallen madly in love.
Though Cyrano easily fends off the clumsy advances of the clueless nobleman Deguiche (the reliably riotous Ray Boucher) toward his beloved Roxanne, she has her eye on a young member Cyrano’s company. In a harebrained scheme most sixth-graders could tell you was doomed to fail from the start, the two pair up to win Roxanne’s heart with Cyrano’s words and Christian’s looks. Things end badly.
The dramatic elements of the show are all in line, with fine performances from Doherty alongside the breathless Boucher and the convincing Morgan Chard. Live music by David Wasik and Allison Dulanski, along with show’s refreshingly simple set, lends to the production’s alluringly spare style. And while the aerial dance segments, performed ably by Kathleen Golde, could emerge more organically from the production, they help to highlight the dangerous stakes of the game Cyrano, Christian and Roxanne are playing.
Despite the production’s manifold charms, it’s clear from Doherty’s program notes and his overwrought post-modern narration that he feels he needs to make excuses for reaching back into the Romantic period for a good story, just as Cyrano feels he needs to make excuses for his nose.
The beauty of this production, but also its curse, is that no excuses are necessary.
R-Title/Artist/Event/Rating: (Out of four)
When: Through Feb. 23
Where: 710 Main Theatre, 710 Main St.
Tickets: $15 to $36.50
Info: 847-0850, www.sheas.org