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THEATER BEAT

An Endearing but Uneven 'Cyrano'

December 27, 1996|PHILIP BRANDES

In 1897, Edmond Rostand's "Cyrano de Bergerac" unleashed the last pure incarnation of the courtly romantic tradition, with its grandest, most absurd illusions in perhaps their most flamboyant bloom.

Even in a more cynical age, the appeal of the title character endures--the warrior-poet selflessly wooing his beloved Roxanne on behalf of another because he believes himself unworthy of her affections. Nevertheless, the play as a whole tends to bog down in Rostand's creaky, unwieldy plot mechanics, and short of abandoning everything but the character archetype (as in Steve Martin's modernized film version, "Roxanne"), the most merciful director's tack lies in firm editing.

Karesa McElheny's judicious adaptation for Pasadena's Knightsbridge Theatre fares quite well in that regard, trimming a good hour while preserving the critical story points. The compact performance space, however, does not easily accommodate epic drama, and her staging, while perfectly functional, shows little ingenuity in overcoming the limitation.

In the title role, Miguel Perez acquits himself with elegance and passion, employing natural charisma and obvious classical training to illuminate Cyrano's exploits as heroic overcompensation for an underlying inferiority complex.

Unfortunately, the surrounding cast members are hard-pressed to keep up with him, and for the most part seem unable to divest their performances of modern sensibilities. At times this works to the advantage of Darcy Lee's particularly spirited Roxanne, though it isn't clear she understands the rules she's breaking by following her husband to the battlefield, etc.

More problematic are Blake Boyd as the ill-fated husband and Christian Noble as her implacable pursuer. The cadences of Rostand's magnificent verse are the worst casualties. C'est la guerre.

* "Cyrano de Bergerac," Knightsbridge Theatre, Braley Building, 35 S. Raymond Ave., Pasadena. Saturdays, 8 p.m.; Sundays, 5 p.m. Ends Feb. 16. $15. (818) 440-0821. Running time: 2 hours, 25 minutes.

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