MSF’s ‘Cyrano’ is a loving summer treat
JACKSON, Mich.–The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is not just about a man with a seriously big nose in love. In a world of image consciousness, fat shaming and sexual identity self-consciousness, this is a story written in the 1800s and set in 1640 that could be adapted any which way to a modern context.
But the Michigan Shakespeare Festival, which is performing the play this summer in Jackson and Canton as its non-Bard offering, is keeping with the 17th century time-context of the original and stay true to the text. If there are some new tweaks, they did not stand out in this production.
David Blixt plays the lead role, and it’s one of those roles he seems born to play. Blixt, a fixture in the festival for years, has swagger going on, but he also has layers of acting chops to fully inhabit the heartbreaking emotional incarceration of Cyrano.
He loves, Boy, does he love. And he has an amazing gift of language. He pushes against the trope that women really just want a pretty face and sinewy body even if it means putting up with a cad, a lout or a heart-hollow mogul. Sure, there are some women who opt for those men out of need, shallowness or desperation. But life clearly taught playwright Edmond Rostand that maybe men with physical shortcomings, as defined by society and the media, should not be as bashful or self-conscious–and just let their heart and mind do the talking and wooing, and see what happens.
Vanessa Sawson plays a radiant Roxanne who, in fact, makes it clear that if a man cannot touch her soul with a gift for words, he is not going to touch any other part of her. She warms to Christian (Michael Morrow) , a young soldier, who is simple, and has a decent heart. But he is a bit of a dullard. To bridge the gap, Cyrano uses him as his conduit for his love of Roxanne–feeding words to Christian to speak below her window and writing his love letters to her. Joe Jackson seeming wrote, “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” from the standpoint of Ragueneau (Alan Ball) or perhaps Cyrano himself.
Blixt is wonderful in the title role, but he can’t do it alone, and this year’s ensemble is very strong indeed. Ian Geers (Bellerose and other parts), Eric Eilersen (Valvert and other parts), Robert Kauzlaric (te nasty Comte de Guiche, the married officer who covets Roxanne), Martel Manning (Ligniere and Cordon) and Justin Montgomery (Marquis and other parts) are all solid and handle their Shakespeare and versical dialogue of Cyrano wonderfully. And in this play, and King Lear, there is much sword play and it’s all choreographed delightfully.
It’s worth noting that while Cyrano, directed here beautifully here by Janice Blixt, is a swashbuckling love story with a tragic ending (there is no spoiler complaints on 121 year old play) there is a fair amount of laugh lines to soften you up for the ending. Cyrano is very matter-of-fact and self-deprecating about his beak. And Rostand gives Cyrano a lot of witty dialogue that is one of his most important human dimensions–the ability to laugh at himself, even while he is aching inside for the woman who would make him complete.
One wonders along the way of Roxanne is really all that. Beautiful, yes. But methinks that sometimes people who focus on their own physical imperfections over-value the exterior beauty of another. Rostand gives her some likeable redemption in the end, even if it is too late. Audience members will decide if Cyrano shakes off his mortal coil happy or sad.
But see this play! The themes are timeless and Michigan Shakespeare Festival’s director and players have given us a loving summer treat.