fight choreography by Matt Hawkins
Original Music by Kevin O’Donnell
Lyrics by Shawn Pfautsch and Matt Hawkins
Produced by The House Theatre of Chicago
At Chopin Theatre, Chicago
Adaptation: not quite a face-lift but more than a nose job
PANACHE! Here’s a word that playwright Edmond Rostand introduced into the English language in his 1897 play, Cyrano de Bergerac. Literally, this French word means a feathered plume – one displayed with great verve on the cap of a nobleman. Later, it came to identify qualities of the man himself: flamboyant and reckless. What a perfect word to weave into the opening song for the House Theater’s 10th anniversary season’s original adaptation of Cyrano.
The stage is bare, dominated by a baby grand piano. Cyrano (Shawn Pfautsch) enters, and sits down to play and sing about the panache which will define both him and the entire evening’s experience – witty, passionate and filled with vitality.
Cyrano has been performed in a variety of venues since its first inception: drama, musical, opera, ballet, book, film, and TV production. In each, a strong male lead is essential. In fact, Cyrano provides one of the great male leading roles and Pfautsch is masterful in his depiction. Cyrano must be strong yet tender, clever yet insightful, bold yet introspective. He must be more than he seems – a man with the visage of a caricature and the heart and soul of a poet. (Can a man with a grotesque nose ever be loved by a desirable damsel?) Pfautsch’s performance is skillfully controlled, compelling the audience to focus on him and his palpable pain.
Homely but verbally adept Cyrano is contrasted to his fellow officer, handsome but limited, tongue-tied Christian (Glenn Stanton). Both men adore the beautiful and brilliant Roxanne (Stacy Stolz). Together, they comprise the perfect beau – beautiful both inside and out.
And so, the well-known story of the how the two men woo Roxanne unfolds until the final, sad resolution when she learns the truth about which has truly merited her love.
Adapter/director Hawkins has modernized the language, streamlined the plot, eliminating extraneous characters, and he, Kevin O’Donnell and Pfautsch have added several musical numbers at key moments. While they are interesting in and of themselves, at times they undercut and weaken the drama, interrupting the pace.
More integral are the great battle scenes which swiftly move from main stage up staircases to balconies and back down again. Warning: the first row of seats is not for the timorous as swords go flashing by. Kudos to the versatile Hawkins who also acted as choreographer and fight director.
Praise also to Shane Brady and Mike Smith as Le Bret and Ligniere, Cyrano’s boon companions. Smith was quite comically effective as a lesser, struggling poet who takes Cyrano as his role model.
The House adaptation is somewhat a face-lift of the original play –offering much enjoyment, presenting sympathetic characters displaying genuine motions as they struggle with their relationships. You might say that Hawkins’ nose job succeeds in spite of a loss of some of the brilliant, rapier like interchanges of the original poetry. Certainly, the excellent cast easily transcends the lack of sets and props to capture the magic of theater.
Date Reviewed: September 4, 2011
Chopin Theater Upstairs, 1543 W. Division St., www.thehousetheatre.com, 773-769-3832, Tickets $25, runs Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., Sundays at 7 p.m., Through October 16. Run time 1 hours and 45 minutes including intermission.
Cyrano review by Tom Williams
Featuring dazzling sword fighting and a tour de force performance by Shawn Pfautsch with melancholy songs (music by Kevin O’Donnell & lyrics by Matt Hawkins & Shawn Pfautsch), The House Theatre of Chicago has another hit on their hands. This fast-paced adventure back into those days of gallantry, honor and raw steel is a retake on Edmond de Rostand’s classic 19th century historical romance –Cyrano de Bergerac. Adapter directory Matt Hawkins’ shorter version is jammed packed with verbal and poetic language, swashbuckling sword fights and loads of romance as the pure Renaissance Man, Cyrano pines for the beauty Roxane (Stacy Stoltz) who he believes he can’t have due to his terrible looks. He believes that his ugly extra-large noise will inhibit him from ever getting Roxane to love him.
He agrees to help the good looking but verbally challenged Christian (Glenn Stanton) woo Roxane by writing wonderful love-inspired prose/poetry to Roxane. Between the truthful nuanced and totally deep-seated vulnerability displayed by Shawn Pfautsch’s Cyrano to contrast his blatant machismo, this Cyrano easily becomes a classic hero with whom we cheer for. Hawkins’ production reduces Cyrano into a romantic adventure that becomes a tragic lover’s tale. Along the way, we see thrilling sword play, hear several fine tunes and we get caught up in Cryano’s plight. Come rediscover The House Theatre of Chicago’s style of live theatre. They deliver.
Date Reviewed: September 4, 2011