The title character of Edmond Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac is one of the truly unforgettable inventions of the theatrical imagination: a plumed, fearless 17th-century French army cadet, dazzling with blade and wit, passionate in war and love, contemptuous toward every social pretension and fawning of authority, inwardly rich while outwardly Spartan. And then there is that nose. Nature has bestowed on Cyrano an extremely large schnoz toward which he has evolved a deep-seated complex — mortally intolerant toward all mockery but tragically insecure in matters of the heart. He cannot openly declare his love for the beautiful and bright Roxane for fear of ridicule and rejection, and so he woos her by ghostwriting love letters for the handsome but tongue-tied Christian, a fellow cadet who is eye-candy to Roxane’s fancy.
Cyrano is PCPA’s summer entry in the classic theater category, presented in Ranjit Bolt’s distinguished translation, which painstakingly versifies the entire text in rhyming couplets. This may strike the ear at first as oddly Seussical, but Bolt is, in fact, following the form of the 1897 French original. Besides, what better tribute to a drama that is all about poetry and the power of the word than versification?
A commanding Cyrano is portrayed by Oregon Shakespeare Festival’s longtime lead man Derrick Lee Weeden, whose classical baritone diction is like oak wood and butter. Weeden finds his own tempered path to Cyrano’s panache without attempting to imitate the edgy aggressive energy of Gérard Depardieu in the iconic 1990 film version. Cara Ricketts skillfully traverses the emotional range from infatuation to agonized mourning as Lady Roxane. Gregory Linington summons the right mixture of competing loyalties with his Comte de Guiche, while Tobias Shaw is well-cast as the impatiently love-struck Christian de Neuvillette.
Cyrano is classic theater for what it teaches while it entertains —not only a noble reminder of the lonely road of remaining faithful to oneself but also an unabashed encomium for the joys of language, rare to hear in the culture of the image. Indeed, of all the competing influences for the heart — sword, status, wealth, and beauty — here it is the word that is most penetrating.