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THEATER REVIEWS / 'CYRANO' AND 'BRIGADOON' : Romantic Ideals : A lavish pair of classic plays offer enchantment through upbeat productions.

February 25, 1993|PHILIP BRANDES | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

If you peel away the beer-bottle bravado, break the car and sports codes, you'll find there's nearly always one.

Into most every man's life at some point enters the embodiment of his feminine ideal: an apparition so compelling, enchanting, terrible and inescapable that nothing else matters but the pursuit of her image.

If you delve deeply enough, he might even tell you her name.

Roxanne, perhaps, or Fiona. It might even turn out that the flesh-and-blood recipient of his devotion bears little resemblance to the idealized vision that draws him on, but no matter.

What concerns him is that he has glimpsed the Her behind the her, and he has little defense against the turbulent feelings erupting from a long-dormant place. Drawn by her magnetic allure, but also the recognition of his emptiness without her, he makes her the centerpiece of his life.

Just how far a man will go in pursuit of his romantic ideal is the theme of two recent Central Coast productions, though they couldn't be farther apart in their tone or their resolutions.

Take your pick. The magnificent obsession of Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac" shimmers forth at PCPA Theaterfest in all its tragic splendor, while the Santa Barbara Civic Light Opera brings its trademark upbeat lavishness to the Lerner and Loewe classic, "Brigadoon."

In true romantic tradition, both set their stories of love-smitten heroes in worlds of the imagination. Though he wrote "Cyrano" in 1898, Rostand transports us back to the swashbuckling derring-do of France in the early 1600s, the time of Dumas' Musketeers. And "Brigadoon" is set even further afield, in a magical Scottish town that only appears once every hundred years.

Not only is Cyrano (Jonathan Gillard Daly) the greatest swordsman of his day, but he's an accomplished poet, playwright, critic and politician to boot--in short, a Renaissance man without peer.

Alas, he's also a man whose nose has no equal. For this particular appendage, the production passes over the traditional Pinocchio-style elongation for more of a bumpy, swollen beak. It's certainly a convincing reason for his self-conscious belief that his beloved Roxanne (Lisa Paulsen) could never return the affections of one so deformed.

Yet his devotion is so great he's willing to script love letters to Roxanne from a dim but handsome young soldier (Gregory Dayton Linington) because he thinks it will make her happy.

The irony, of course, is that Cyrano's flaw is not his nose at all--it's his enormous pride. Roxanne would have loved the author of those love letters no matter what he looked like. As the piece builds momentum in its eloquent final scene, Daly's ultimate recognition of the enormity of his failure is heartbreaking.

Rostand's swashbuckling world is impressively brought to life by PCPA's director Roger DeLaurier, with help from fight director David L. Boushey. The production brings the full arsenal of PCPA's technical resources to bear on a detailed multilevel set (courtesy of Norm Spencer), which transforms with elegant precision into a public square, a convent, a bakery, a town under siege, and of course, the balcony of the beloved Roxanne.

Throughout, Daly gives a masterful performance that brings all the larger-than-life grandeur we'd expect to the role. Fortunate, since the piece hinges so entirely on his success--Rostand had little interest in balance or well-developed opposition--the other characters are mere foils to reflect Cyrano's light.

We see the limits of Rostand's dramaturgy in the tedious opening scene as it rambles aimlessly through a public gathering at a local theater--once Daly makes his appearance he brings the piece sharply into focus and never loses it. Standout supporting performances from Paulsen and Christian Lebano as a cowardly nobleman occur almost in spite of their scripted roles.

In contrast, Tommy Albright (Tom Zemon), the hero of "Brigadoon," is a figure much better integrated into a dramatic context. Despite the lyrical nonsense of the musical genre, there are clearly defined alternative perspectives here, most notably in his cynical companion (a very funny Charles Ballinger).

Albright may lack Daly's poetic grandeur, but he makes a sympathetic young traveler who can't seem to find his place in life--a prime candidate for the charms of lovely Fiona (Therese Walden) and her magical town.

Walden brings a quiet emotional wisdom to Fiona that really makes her one-in-a-century, and their romance becomes a sentimental education for Tommy.

As in "Cyrano" love goes hand-in-hand with sacrifice. To stay with Fiona, Tommy must renounce the world and enter Brigadoon forever. But like Cyrano, he too carries his own greatest obstacles--in this case the fear of giving up everything he has to get everything he wants.

In this musical, love conquers all. But even here the dark side of obsession is represented by a jealous Brigadoon resident (Harry Beaton) who threatens to destroy the magical kingdom.

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