BWW Review: Gloucester Stage Presents N.E. Premiere of CYRANO

BWW Review: Gloucester Stage Presents N.E. Premiere of CYRANO

Cyrano

Written by Jason O'Connell and Brenda Withers, Adapted from the play Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand; Directed/Fight Direction by Robert Walsh; Scenic Design, Jenna McFarland Lord; Lighting Design, Russ Swift; Costume Design, Elisabetta Polito; Properties Design, Emme Shaw; Sound Design, David Wilson; Stage Manager, Marsha Smith

CAST: Jeremiah Kissel, Andrea Goldman, Paul Melendy, Erin Nicole Washington, James Ricardo Milord

Performances through August 11 at Gloucester Stage Company, 267 E. Main Street, Gloucester, MA; Box Office 978-281-4433 or www.gloucesterstage.com

Edmond Rostand wrote his play Cyrano de Bergerac in 1897 entirely in verse, underlining the literary capabilities of his protagonist. Endowed with the gifts of great wit and superior command of language, Cyrano was bereft of handsomeness and believed himself to be unworthy of love, especially from the beautiful Roxane, whom he loved and admired in secrecy. Putting her happiness above his own, Cyrano befriended Christian, the man she loved, and provided him with flowery phrases and thoughtful soliloquies to woo Roxane in the style she desired. This timeless tale has been revised, revived, and revisited in countless iterations, and now Gloucester Stage Company presents the New England premiere of Cyrano, a new version written with a contemporary spin by Jason O'Connell and Brenda Withers.

Using modern, accessible language and paring down the cast (five actors play more than a dozen characters), the script is mostly fast, often loose, and sometimes loosey-goosey, especially at the start when there is a play within the play. Director Robert Walsh eschews a curtain speech, tasking the actors with conveying the usual info about exits and quieting cellphones, even as they already appear in character. At the performance I attended, the audience took a few minutes to catch on to the fact that the show was rolling, especially when Jeremiah Kissel (Cyrano) seemed to have sustained an injury in the wings. As the rest of the ensemble tended to him on the floor, I heard a woman behind me suggest calling 9-1-1. However, he soon rose up and was none the worse for wear; it was all part of the intro scene.

Cyrano is divided into two acts, but the plot contains five settings: a theater performance in Paris, a bake shop cum poet's corner, Roxane's house, the battlefield, and a convent outside Paris (fifteen years hence). Throughout the play, there are numerous mood shifts between comedy and drama, silliness and sword fighting, the joys of love and the acceptance of loss. Cyrano is a complex individual who personifies honor, devotion, generosity and self-sacrifice, and Kissel gives life to this multitude of characteristics. He performs tirelessly, even after single-handedly battling an overwhelming number of opponents in a sword fight. He conveys the deep feelings his character harbors for Roxane, and shows the pain of believing them to be unrequited. Making good on his promise to her that he will become Christian's friend/guardian, he channels his love for Roxane into their bromance.

Andrea Goldman's Roxane is warm and girlish, deliriously in love with Christian, yet also loving her friend Cyrano. James Ricardo Milord's exuberance is contagious when Christian realizes his good fortune that Roxane loves him and that Cyrano has volunteered to be his mouthpiece. In the final scenes, he plays the role of Sister Marthe at the convent, morphing into the character when he dons a wimple and a spiritual demeanor. Erin Nicole Washington differentiates five separate characters, sometimes aided only by a reversible skirt. Paul Melendy gives a broad performance and provides much of the comic relief in four diverse roles.

Jenna McFarland Lord uses a minimalistic approach for the scenic design. At the top of the show, a curtain painted with a pastoral scene serves as the stage for the Paris theater, but it is removed when the action moves on. A set piece with a balcony slides on as Roxane's house, and a desolate moonscape serves as the battlefield. Atmosphere and mood are added by Russ Swift's lighting design, and David Wilson provides evocative sounds of war. Elisabetta Polito finds clever ways to use costumes to differentiate characters, including a variety of capes and feathered hats. Director Walsh draws strong performances from the ensemble, three of whom are making their Gloucester Stage debuts (Goldman and Melendy are returning), and doubles as fight director, choreographing an exciting bit of sword play involving the entire cast.

Next up at Gloucester Stage: True West by Sam Shepard, a gritty drama about a conflict between two brothers that plays out on the California landscape. (August 17-September 8)

Photo credit: Gary Ng (James Ricardo Milord, Andrea Goldman, Jeremiah Kissel)



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