Theater Review - Honked off

Cyrano proves too cute by a nose

The only thing bigger than the nose on Cyrano de Bergerac's face is the chip on his shoulder. Playing Edmond Rostand's famed, nasally endowed swordsman for the Georgia Shakespeare Festival, Chris Kayser highlights the rage in the character. With long, lank hair and a beak like a Dickensian villain, Kayser's Cyrano seethes with savage wit and a violent temper, a man taking out his esteem issues on the rest of the world.

Despite the anger of its leading man, the play's first half steamrolls the audience with so much noisy slapstick, boisterous behavior and faux-French, Euro-Disney theatricality that you await the entrance of a singing candlestick.

But whenever the production focuses closely on the central love triangle, Cyrano proves tender and heartfelt. Cyrano pines for his cousin Roxane (Park Krausen), who admires the dash of young cadet Christian (Joe Knezevich). Christian loves Roxane from afar, but gets tongue-tied whenever he attempts to speak to her. Cyrano, a proud, gifted poet, woos Roxane in Christian's name through letters and from the shadows.

Krausen gives Roxane some wit and depth, and we enjoy her cleverness when she manipulates one of Cyrano's enemies, the rich, scheming De Guiche (Brad Sherrill). At times Knezevich makes Christian a frivolous lightweight. When he learns that Roxane's interested in him, he runs around whooping like a nut. But in the second act, when he grasps that Roxane loves him for Cyrano's words and profound feelings, Knezevich poignantly conveys Christian's heartbreak: "Now she loves only my soul. And that was you."

Kayser doesn't ignore Cyrano's sensitive side, and he poignantly suffers in silence at the young lovers' romance. But the actor gives the swashbuckler's aggressive qualities the keener edge. He takes dangerous risks in the name of overachievement, composing a ballad while dueling a fop in his first scene. You suspect that if he ever did get Roxane, he'd think something was wrong with her for loving a man who looks like him.

Davis McCallum directs his own translation of Rostand's 1897 play, and the text frequently grates. The phony young actors playing the cadets sing a self-conscious, swaggering song, while a scene at a pastry shop begins with a musical number about baked goods that'll put you entirely off your feed. At times the script lapses into verse (following Rostand's lead), but the only memorable line is the "bad" rhyme that pairs "almond tarts" with "saliva starts."

The Georgia Shakespeare Festival's productions usually bring intellectually provocative ideas to overly familiar texts, and even misguided decisions reveal undeniable passion. But by Cyrano's melodramatic standards, McCallum's production plays more broadly and simplistically than usual for the Shakespeare Festival. Serious moments inflate to solemnity: When Cyrano delivers an early speech about his own integrity, the cast stands at attention like it's the Pledge of Allegiance.

The play's humor proves even more forced. As a hammy thespian, Rob Cleveland dresses almost like Little Bo Peep, while Carolyn Cook, one of the ensemble's finest players, makes a silly spectacle of herself as Roxane's flighty chaperone. (Fortunately, Allan Edwards as literature-loving Ragueneau keeps the comedy in proportion.) The crowd scenes prove a blur of poodle wigs, painted faces and semi-enthusiastic cries of "Vive Le France!" People who never go to the theater doubtlessly imagine that classic plays look exactly like this.

At least the second act battlefield scenes play it mostly straight, apart from some perfunctory rouse-the-troops business. And no matter who translates the play, Cyrano includes one of the most drawn-out death scenes in all of drama. McCallum's choice to end the show with Edith Piaf's "I Regret Nothing" fits cleverly with the French setting and Cyrano's personality. Regretfully, the rest of Cyrano de Bergerac rarely proves that clever.