BWW Review: Archive Theatre's CYRANO DE BERGERAC Delivers Epic Experience
Count this reviewer another in a long line of local theatre critics praising the Archive Theatre's epic Cyrano De Bergerac. This is Edmond Rostand's CYRANO performed via a new English translation by Archive Theatre's managing director and director of the play herself, Jennifer Rose Davis. And as if that weren't enough, Jennifer performs some just lovely solos, is the costume designer and serves as one of the musicians in this experience of CYRANO as well. Teaming up with the Scottish Rite Theatre for this event, The Archive Theatre has struck gold in this venue, and the two make a fine pair, not unlike Cyrano and Roxane.
In case you missed it in high school or college, or, if you missed the contemporary movie starring Steve Martin and Darryl Hannah back in... er... 1987, here's what happens: Our illustrious heroic cadet Cyrano (Patrick David Wheeler) is a wonderful poet, magnificent duelist, humble leader, and charming gentleman who possesses so many other ennobling traits that it's hard to imagine, at least in the 21st century, how any self aware woman wouldn't overlook his enormous nose. But this play is set in the 17th century, and Roxane, (Liz Waters) the unattainable object of Cyrano's desire, has her eye on Christian instead, who, for all his good looks, doesn't have much else to offer Roxane.
When Roxane discovers Christian belongs to the same company of cadets as Cyrano, she asks Cyrano to watch over Christian. Ever the gentleman, Cyrano agrees and, even further, he promises Christian to help win Roxane's heart. Christian has the looks and Cyrano the poetry and heartfelt creativity to make the perfect man for Roxane. Expected comedic antics ensue, including the second most famous balcony scene in the history of theatre.
Unfortunately, our villain, The Comte De Guiche (Joe Kelley) also loves Roxane. Having the power to screw everything up for everyone, when he discovers he's been double crossed, The Comte commits a dastardly deed and the rest of the play cannot be revealed. Too many spoilers.
This production, as mentioned before, is indeed epic. Not urban dictionary epic, but Webster's epic. Clocking in at three hours, it's an event and should be treated as such. Davis has created an immersive experience with this Cyrano, using not just the theatre proper but the lobby as well, sending her actors out among the patrons to serve as vendors and patrons of the production themselves. Careful though, there's a talented pickpocket cruising around the theatre. Never fear, it's just an actor playing a role. It's like the Disney World of 17th century France.
Davis's staging could be viewed as a gimmick in a contemporary theatre, but using the whole Scottish Rite theatre, with ample aisles for the actors to sword fight and carouse, it's majestic masonic backdrops and high painted ceiling are a perfect setting to use in its entirety. Scenic designer Jennifer Singletary does not disappoint! And, a stickler for blocking and staging myself, I noted in detail that Davis made gorgeous pictures with her cast, and fight choreographers Toby Minor and Joseph Garlock provide superior fight scenes. Costume designers Davis and Star Maddox attend to every detail of the numerous costumes worn in this production, and, in a truly authentic touch, Howard Burkett directs the gorgeous live music for the production.
Patrick David Wheeler is a powerful presence as Cyrano, charismatic as he is tragic, embodying all the countless adjectives his character invokes. He's such a talent, I suspected momentarily this production was a vehicle for Wheeler specifically. Liz Waters' Roxane is gorgeous and poised. Together, these two have the required chemistry one can usually only hope for when producing this play. Other notables who really "get it" include Evan Elias, John Michael Hoke, and Joe Kelley. This is not to exclude anyone, as there is a clear commitment to the production seen in the work of the other prominent cast members and ensemble of cadets, nuns, and poets, all double/triple cast.
If I have any quarrel with this production, it would be the volume and staging in a couple of scenes that prevented me from seeing and hearing the actors completely. Always a danger when using every inch of the venue, this isn't an unusual problem, but some of these scenes were key, and, with the rest of the production being so well executed, I was sad to miss out. And one more thing: to get the most out of all this generally excellent staging, sit toward the back, where the seating is elevated for your maximum viewing pleasure.
It's very rare to see a show of this proportion outside the prosperous walls of ZACH or the University of Texas Theatre Department. So much dedication and talent from so many artists is unusual in the Austin community. This alone is enough to warrant a viewing. That it is done with so much care, dedication to authenticity and, dare I say it - panache, is even more unique.
August 28 - September 29, 2019
(wisely, no performances during UT football games)
Scottish Rite Theatre
207 West 18th Street
Austin, TX, 78701
Tickets click here
Photo credit: Steve Rogers