Review: Cyrano de Bergerac

James Fagan Tait brings a new translation and adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s enduring Cyrano de Bergerac in a much darker version than what audiences might be used to in this classic love story but it does work in emphasizing the tragedy of a love never realized and indeed, love that is ultimately lost.

While James Fagan Tait’s adaptation is much more dark and moody I couldn’t help but long for him to light up just a little so that the comedy of Rostand’s original could come through as well.

Tait also takes his translation and adaptation one step further in updating the language. This is a double-edged sword. For the most part it works and allows for a modern audience to spend less time “translating” the dialogue into something they can easily understand but it also requires a deft translator that ensures no loss to the beauty of the original. Tait manages this in most of his translation although it was a bit off-putting when the audience laughs at some dialogue where there should not have been any laughter and vice versa. Don’t get me wrong, I definitely admire Tait’s attempt here in making the language more approachable and these small quibbles definitely don’t detract from the whole.

Set in the mid-1600s, the show opens with the actors in the aisles playing the audience. While an interesting twist given the first scene actually takes place in a theatre, it was a bit difficult to follow everything that was going on at the time as we strained to see all of the players in various parts of the theatre.

Cyrano de Bergerac
Carmen Aguirre, David Mackay, and Melissa Poll in the Arts Club Theatre Company’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo by Emily Cooper.

It doesn’t take long for Cyrano’s sword to find its first mark and after the duel has impressed his cousin Roxane so much that she takes Cyrano into her confidence by professing her love for Christian, one of Cyrano’s newest cadets. Roxane’s admission of love for Christian, of course, takes place before Cyrano has an opportunity to profess his own love for her.

It is this conceit that drives the rest of the play, as Cyrano continues to love Roxane but only by pretending to be Christian. Even after the Cadets find themselves on the frontlines of the war with Spain, Cyrano continues to write to Roxane as Christian to the point where, risking her own life, she actually joins them in the trenches.

The leads, David Mackay (Cyrano) and Melissa Poll (Roxane) do a fine job with their roles here but one cannot ignore the ensemble cast who must play multiple roles including members of the opposite sex.

Nancy Bryant’s costume designs are spot-on from the swashbucklers of Cyrano and the Cadets of Gascoyne to the gowns worn by Roxane. Set Designer Robert Gardiner manages to keep the tone of Tait’s vision here with his dark and brooding sets although there is at times too much happening up-stage behind the scrim.

The music sets a very nice tone throughout the show although it is still a bit of a mystery as to why Tait felt it necessary to have the two musicians as part of the actual show on stage. And while the incidental music helped to carry Tait’s overall tone, I did find the actual songs to be an unnecessary indulgence.

All-in-all, while a tad lengthy and much darker than I would have liked, I admire Tait’s skill and the risks he took in re-adapting this classic for a new audience.

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