Guthrie strikes classic adaptation right on the nose

Current production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” by director Joseph Haj is not to be missed.

Cyrano de Bergerac (Jay O. Sanders) speaks his love in prose in place of Christian (Robert Lenzi) to the beloved Roxane (Jennie Greenberry).

Franki Hanke, Senior Reporter

“Your nose is very…” A silence hangs in the air following the trailing end of a thick, French accent. The audience, buzzing still from the rapid-fire dialogue of the opening scene of Cyrano de Bergerac, fall quiet in anticipation of the punchline waiting to slip from pursed lips. With an upturned chin, facing down the prime character at center stage, the line is finished: “…big.”

The biting, clever lines that followed in the opening duel soothed any concern that the new production in Minneapolis wouldn’t be worth the evening out. To elicit such genuine, radiating laughter from the entire, full opening night crowd meant the play that followed wouldn’t disappoint— even if a big nose was a major plot point.

Under Joseph Haj’s direction, Guthrie Theater is running “Cyrano de Bergerac”, an 1897 Edmond Rostand play about a complicated love affair. The play is centered around a poet who shares the same name as the play itself: Cyrano de Bergerac. He is a poet and talented swordsman who is bold and clever, but insecure about his staggeringly large nose. This vulnerability is what keeps him from sharing his feelings with his cousin Roxane, even when she shares she is in love with a new cadet in Cyrano’s company: Christian. Instead, Cyrano shares a plan with the tongue-tied newcomer: he’ll provide the wit to woo Roxane if Christian is the pretty face.

The play itself has long been popular both on stage and in film adaptations. It’s storyline is simple but compelling with a strong undercurrent of emotion and a heavy dose of humor. Using his own adaptation, Haj has sharpened the clever humor of existing English translations to leave the  McGuire Proscenium Stage echoing with staggering laughter.

Whereas some productions utilize extravagant set design or artful light or video display to elevate the story, the feature focus of Haj’s Cyrano de Bergerac is the acting. Both the comedy and the emotion are carried in the full embodiment of each character. On opening night, everyone on stage acted emotively. Jay O. Sanders, playing Cyrano himself, became the explosively passionate poet in gesture and voice with precision while Jennie Greenberry, playing Roxane, spoke volumes with her silent facial expressions.

However, the stellar acting would have fallen short if not for the costume design. With a plot centered around Cyrano’s oversized nose, the prosthetics for this production are essential. A new nose is created and fitted for each performance for Sander’s signature look. Chin-down, the wardrobe of the 1640 time period is captured in rich layers suited to each character’s status with an acute attention to detail.

As beautiful as the curiosity cabinet inspired set design is, without the talent of the actors, the play would flop. The passion and dedication to the characters every actor on stage showed (from lengthy declarations of love to the infliction of a singular, nose-themed insult) was where this production is most impressive. Coupled with a sharp adaptation that varied from prose to zipping humor, the opening night performance was one of gut laughter all through the first act and shimmering eyes in the second act.

All factors combined, the Guthrie’s current production of “Cyrano de Bergerac” is not to be missed. The plot is universally striking, the dialogue witty and the acting top notch. This production runs from March 16 to May 5 on the McGuire Proscenium Stage with tickets ranging from $29 to $78. More information can be found on the Guthrie’s website.