Cyrano de Bergerac has a schnoz that makes his countenance offensive to women and his appearance the butt of many jokes and snide remarks from men.
Or, so the Frenchman believes.
To compensate, Cyrano uses his rapier wit, his way with words and skills as a swordsman to foil ladies who turn their heads in disgust and gentlemen who hurl insults at his proboscis. He helps a tongue-tied, handsome friend woo Roxanne, the woman Cyrano loves but believes could never return his feelings.
Cyrano’s tale first was told in French verse by Edmond Rostand in 1897. Since then, there have been many translations on stage and screen, including Steve Martin’s 1987 film “Roxanne,” which updated the story and gave it an upbeat ending.
This summer, the Theater at Monmouth is performing Jo Roets’ 70-minute, one-act version of the show. A Belgian playwright, Roets wrote the three-actor play in 1996. Two years later, “Cyrano” was first performed in the United States at the Seattle Children’s Theatre.
Monmouth’s production is delightfully acted and lovingly produced, but in the end it feels like Cyrano light. It’s a tasty appetizer that leaves the audience longing for a full meal seared by the Frenchman’s poetry and repartee.
Christopher Holt’s Cyrano is brash, bold and dashing, a facade that hides the character’s insecurities about his appearance. One of the reasons the audience longs for more of the Frenchman is the actor’s multilayered performance. Holt seduces theatergoers the same way he does Roxanne — with his wit, words, loyalty and vulnerability.
Emotionally, Holt’s Cyrano is almost naked on stage. The actor does not just show the audience the pain Cyrano feels at not being loved by the woman he adores; Holt makes theatergoers feel it to their marrow.
Marjolaine Whttlesey portrays Roxanne and narrates much of the story. She is charming as Roxanne but does not give the character the same depth Holt gives Cyrano. The actress has little spark with her male costars, but each time she turns to the audience, theatergoers fall for her as hard as Cyrano has. Like many inexperienced performers, Whittlesey is inconsistent when it come to listening to her fellow actors.
The rest of the characters in the play, including Christian, the man Roxanne falls for when she first spies his handsome countenance, are played by Tim Kopacz. His Christian is sweetly sincere but not dimwitted as some actors have played him. The man is simply at a loss for words when he’s in Roxanne’s presence and turns to Cyrano for help.
Somehow, Kopacz creates about half a dozen full-fledged characters. In addition to giving Christian depth, the actor infuses DeGuiche, the man who lusts after Roxanne, with such conniving, slimy, sleazy qualities that theatergoers want to shower when he leaves the stage. Kopacz is a talented and skilled addition to the Monmouth company.
Director Tess Van Horn and Monmouth’s production team successfully put some meat on Roets’ bare-boned script with lush period costumes by Michelle Handley, stunning lighting designed by Jim Alexander and a spectacular sound design by Rew Tippin.
Those elements help make up for the sparse set, designed by Meg Anderson. It works well for the battlefield scenes but takes away from the scenes inside the ornate homes of 17th century France.
“Cyrano” allows 21st century audiences with shorter attention spans than those of earlier centuries to access the story, but the audiences leaves Cumston Hall longing to sit longer at Cyrano’s feet, listen to him wax poetic about love and peer up his schnoz.
“Cyrano” will be performed in repertory through Aug. 19 by Theater at Monmouth at Cumston Hall on Route 132 in Monmouth. For information, call 933-9999.