"Cyrano" by Jo Roets at Sonoma County Repertory Theater, Sebastopol CA

The Nose Knows - Outstanding Farewell To The Rep

“Cyrano” by Jo Roets, adapted from “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand
Sonoma County Repertory Theater, Sebastopol CA

Photos by Jeff Thomas:
Allison Baker (front), Chad Yarish (back)
Keith Baker (front), Allison Baker (back)

Reviewed by Suzanne and Greg Angeo

In its North Bay premiere, “Cyrano” is a magical swan song, a bittersweet triumph that does honor to Sonoma County Repertory Theater, a culmination of 17 years of excellence in local repertory theatre. Sadly, The Rep closes its doors at the end of the show’s run.

Infused with pure enchantment from start to finish, Belgian playwright Jo Roets’ “Cyrano” is taken from the 1897 French play “Cyrano de Bergerac” by Edmond Rostand, a classic tale of unrequited love based on the real-life 17th century poet and swordsman of the same name. Roets offers us an inventive, delicious reduction of Rostand’s mighty work. Distilled down to a delightful tincture, “Cyrano” was conceived for children, first staged by the theatre group Blauw Vier based in Antwerp, Belgium back in the 1990’s.

By now nearly everyone knows the story: Cyrano loves the beautiful Roxanne. A gifted man who possesses great virtue and talent (and a nose of historic proportions), he fears revealing his love to her because he thinks himself ugly and unworthy of her, and he knows she loves the handsome Christian. Cyrano befriends Christian, who feels he lacks the wit and ability to communicate with Roxanne, so he asks the secretly smitten Cyrano to write love letters to her for him. And so the story unfolds.

At Sonoma Rep, the play’s opening scene is dialogue-free. The three actors suddenly emerge, gleefully leaping and dancing up the center aisle, through the audience and up onto the stage. They proceed to introduce themselves by demonstrating their characters in lively pantomime, with two of the actors showing us their several roles. Then the action really begins. Keith Baker plays Cyrano - and only Cyrano - with gutsy panache, a truly tragi-comic hero. Allison Baker is lovely and magnetic as Roxanne, the unattainable love of Cyrano, and also as the crotchety old servant Duenna. Three roles are performed with sly humor and subtlety by Chad Yarish: the apple of Roxanne’s eye, Christian, the villainous DeGuiche and Ragueneau.

Director Jennifer King, fresh from her stunning success with “Art” at Sixth Street Playhouse, shows once again her talent at encouraging and then orchestrating divergent personalities, providing the vivid contrast so vital in good storytelling. She is ably assisted by outstanding contributions from the cast and production crew, and it all comes together in perfect harmony. The use of music becomes a score intrinsic to the experience, enhancing the mood of important scenes and the emotional development of the characters. Really fine use of stagecraft further elevates this production to one of brilliance.

A striking feature of “Cyrano” is the use of unique Foley equipment onstage, which really increases the Fun Factor. In his play, Roets has written the sword fights as pantomime between the weaponless duelists, with incredibly entertaining results. Allison Baker as Roxanne provides the sound effects of the clashing swords, her facial expressions allowing us to see what’s at stake to Roxanne as a bystander. Other sound effects are delivered in truly original and delightful ways by each of the characters as the scenes require.

“Cyrano” clocks in at only 75 minutes with five short, punchy acts. It exploits to the max a traditional storytelling device – setting up the audience. It opens with joy-filled comedy, thus forming an intimate connection through humor by allowing the audience to care for and identify with the characters. This leaves them vulnerable to the inevitable punch in the gut: the tragic events that follow sting like salt in an open wound, like tears on a love letter.

Through our tragic hero Cyrano, we wonder – do appearances really matter? We also see that love is more than just words; it’s demonstrated in voiceless actions, sometimes over a lifetime. The entrée can be served as pretty poetry, giving rise to goosebumps and adoration, but it’s the actions of the lover that endure. Sonoma Rep’s “Cyrano” is a fitting tribute to its illustrious history. What a way to go!

When: January 19 to February 20, 2011
8 p.m. Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays
2 p.m. Sundays
Tickets: $15 to $25
Location: Sonoma County Repertory Theater
104 N Main Street, Sebastopol CA
Phone: 707-823-0177
Website: www.the-rep.com