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REVIEW: A tale of two reviews - see our take on 'Cyrano de Bergerac'

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Carly Weber  ::   UPDATED: 21 January 2014 | 4:18 pm   ::  

The familiar tale of Cyrano de Bergerac finds an eloquent but ugly man helping a handsome but dull man woo the woman they both love. The woman in question, Roxane, discovers to her surprise that she prefers beautifully expressed devotion to physical attractiveness.

But in the Classics at Brucemore production of Ranjit Bolt’s 1995 translation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play, directed by Richard Barker, Jason Alberty combines eloquence and physicality to craft an impressive performance in the title role. A large crowd enjoyed both the play and a beautiful night on July 12 in the natural amphitheatre on the Brucemore grounds.

The details:


  • The Classics at Brucemore: “Cyrano de Bergerac”

  • Outdoor stage near the pond at Brucemore, 2160 Linden Dr. SE, Cedar Rapids

  • 8 p.m. July 18 to 20

  • Tickets:  $20 at the gate; $18 adults, $15 Brucemore members and students in advance

  • Buy tickets at the Brucemore Store, (319) 362-7375 or Brucemore.org

  • Extras: Parking available on-site; bring lawn chairs, blankets, picnics and beverages or order Brewed Cafe picnics in advance at (319) 362-7375; plate options and details at Brucemore.org


Rostand wrote his play in verse, and Bolt’s translation adheres to that form. As the play opened, the rhyming and the modern vernacular were a bit jarring, especially given that the play is set in the 1640s. In the early going, and at a few other moments throughout the play, the singsong rhythm of the rhyme threatened to distract from the story and the performances, but Alberty immediately established that he was not a slave to the text’s tempting pulse.

Sporting a large prosthetic nose that is his character’s defining physical characteristic, Alberty was a commanding presence on stage whether railing against his enemies, wielding a sword, or bemoaning his inability to reveal his true feelings to Roxane. He is frequently very funny indeed—as when he attempts to act out what he wants his friend and rival to say to Roxane—but also fully communicates Cyrano’s longing and regret.

While many members of the sizeable cast turned in quality performances—including Angela Meisterling Billman as Roxane and Matthew James as Christian de Neuvillette, the man Cyrano aids in his romantic cause—it is Alberty’s performance that truly stands out.

Derek Easton’s set is well designed and convincingly transforms into five disparate locations. The fog and flash of war is creatively produced in the play’s pivotal scene, as well. Bonnie Moses’s costumes are beautiful and lush, and Jason Tipsword’s fight choreography, particularly for duel in the play’s early going, is excellent. The microphones arrayed along the front of the stage are, for the most part, enough to carry the dialogue to those seated far back on the lawn, though there was something of a dead spot on the stage left side.

The production runs nearly three hours, including a somewhat overlong intermission necessitated by the location of the restrooms in relation to the seating area. Nevertheless, Alberty and company are largely able to hold the audience’s attention throughout this story of self-doubt and opportunities missed. You may wish to take advantage of the opportunity to experience this classic story.

--- Rob Cline

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“Cyrano de Bergerac” is Jason Alberty’s finest hour. Which is saying a lot, since he’s had many fine hours, from a wacky lead role “The Mystery of Irma Vep” to a shorter, over-the-top hilarious turn in “The Producers,” both at Theatre Cedar Rapids.

Now his talent is shining under the stars -- with plenty of other stars -- on the outdoor stage behind Brucemore mansion through July 20.

One of the show’s brightest stars is the fight choreography by Jason Tipsword. It perfectly illustrates why the Brucemore setting so magical – the ability of bringing epic battles onto the grass at audience members’ feet. Even the duels onstage are close enough that we get the visceral experience of seeing, hearing and feeling the clang of metal and fling of sweat in a way that even though we know the actors are safe, we believe their characters are in mortal danger.

Through 18 years of the Classics at Brucemore, the historic estate has always been one of the most endearing cast members. Not only do viewers get to bring blankets, chairs and picnics lavish or last-minute to create their own evening event -- the majestic trees, chirping frog chorus and swooping bats make this a theatrical experience like no other.

The ambience enhances an already majestic script.

“Cyrano” feels like a play we all know but haven’t seen. It’s a Beauty and the Beast sort of tale, in which the witty Cyrano, an expert with pen and sword, can’t see past the prominent nose on his face to believe that any woman – let alone the gorgeous Roxane – could love him. When the dashing Christian captures her fancy but can’t spit out the words of romance she craves, Cyrano comes to their rescue, providing poetry that melts every heart, even tripping off Christian’s tied tongue.

This is one romantic comedy without a Disney ending, but Alberty goes out in a blaze of glory the likes of which we rarely get to see in a live performance. Part of that is the searing dialogue, based on Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play set in 1640 France. Most of it lies in Richard Barker’s brilliant direction and Alberty’s stunning delivery.

It’s not just the Cyrano show, however. All of the other actors and characters are dynamic, dressed in colorful Musketeer style, romping across a clever multilevel set with equally clever dramatic lighting to suggest the exploding cannons of looming death on the battlefields of life and heart.

The always luminous Angela Meisterling Billman creates a regal Roxane who falls under an intoxicating combination of Christian’s dashing looks and Cyrano’s dashing words. Matthew James – one of the finest young actors in the Corridor – never stumbles as Christian fumbles in his romantic repartee. His final scene is utterly heart-wrenching, too.

David Morton provides oodles of visual comic relief, reeling in and out of his scenes as a drunkard hiding from a murderous lot. Scott Humeston creates a nobleman with an evil that transforms into pity.

Above all, this is a romantic romp through an English translation that preserves Rostand’s poetry in tune with modern ears. The rhythms the actors find let us mostly forget that the lines rhyme.

The only drawback was the spotty sound as actors turned their heads or walked in and out of microphone range. Billman was particularly hard to hear, but so was Alberty on occasion.

Still, this is one of the finest stagings for the Classics at Brucemore, which is always the highlight of the summer’s local theatrical season.

--- Diana Nollen

 

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