Interviews with “Cyrano” director and actor

Langella’s ‘Cyrano’ is shorn of pomp

By Lawrence B. Johnson, Special to The Detroit News

Read original article here.

Topher Payne plays Christian and Sara Hymes Roxane in a production of “Cyrano” director Blair Anderson says is geared to modern sensibilities. (Hilberry Theatre)

If you boil Edmond Rostand’s epic play “Cyrano de Bergerac” down to its Freudian essence, the story of a great swordsman and poet who suffered from a sense of inadequacy, you have Frank Langella’s “Cyrano.”

It is Langella’s distillation, in which half the huge cast of characters and most of the subplots are removed from Rostand’s original, that Wayne State University’s Hilberry Theatre brings to the stage Friday night for a run through March 10. Director Blair Anderson calls it a “Cyrano” for modern sensibilities.

“This man is larger than life but has the same human foibles and insecurities that all of us possess,” says Anderson. “He is master of the sword and the word, and seemingly has the world by the tail. But he also has this one debilitating frailty. His nose is unusually large, and he believes it makes him ugly in the eyes of the world. So he hides behinds his nose. It freezes him.

“He loves the beautiful Roxane but doesn’t dare tell her because he fears she will reject him and his nose. So he chooses to dissemble at the very time he should be totally honest.”

The result is tragic. Rostand’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” has endured as one of the great modern romances, and even in that respect it is intriguing. Though set in mid-17th century Paris, the play actually dates from 1897. Moreover, in keeping with its historical setting, Rostand devised the work entirely in rhymed couplets. Langella, who based his adaptation on Brian Hooker’s 1923 English translation, dropped the couplets in favor of conventional dialogue.

While “Cyrano” involves a love triangle, it’s not quite the classic case of two hearts competing for the favor of a third. Unwilling to reveal his love for Roxane, Cyrano sublimates his affections by lending his poetic gifts. He writes amorous verses for one of Roxane’s suitors, Christian, a handsome albeit witless young soldier. Through his mentor’s words, Christian readily sweeps Roxane off her feet. In the end, Cyrano loses even that indirect connection to his beloved and must play out his life near Roxane but with his heart in silent hiding.

“Langella’s adaptation is very American,” says Anderson. “It deals with psychological realism. Those who want all the pomp and grandeur may be disappointed. We’re trying to avoid period style to focus on motivation and the decisions that each character — Cyrano, Roxane and Christian — have to make.”

Dave Toomey, a third-year member of Hilberry’s graduate acting program and a native of Lansing, plays the brilliant but conflicted Cyrano. Even in Langella’s reduction, he says, the swordsman-poet’s generous and poetic language is a challenge to bring off.

“Cyrano likes to elaborate. He never makes his point simply,” says Toomey. “Every time he speaks it’s a three- or four-minute monologue. The trick is to understand why he keeps talking when we get it already. It’s similar to Shakespeare in that you have to speak as if it were everyday language. To drive through Cyrano’s monologues, you have to make it as casual as possible.”

At the same time, says Toomey, Langella’s concise treatment of the story brings to mind the terse, crisp style of playwright David Mamet.

“It’s quick,” he says, “but it doesn’t compromise character development.”

lawrencebj@gmail.com

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