Cyrano de Bergerac

September 24

November 10, 2013

in CST's Courtyard Theater

by Edmond Rostand
translated and adapted for the stage
by Anthony Burgess
directed by Penny Metropulos

Critical Acclaim

Immensely beautiful… Grand in scale, it is a play with an intense focus on language (from the poetic spirit of romance, to the barbed edges of satire and comic rage), a slew of larger-than-life characters, a playful adoration of the theater world itself, flamboyant sword fights, and shifts in time and place that take us from a theater stage to a pastry shop, a battlefield to a convent garden. In her lavish new production, director Penny Metropulos captures the splendor and showmanship of the play. And as Cyrano, which is a true bear of a role, her leading actor, Harry Groener once again demonstrates his masterful way with language, as well as his impressive physical grace, including a fearless way with Rick Sordelet’s thrilling fight choreography.

Groener is, as his many fans in Chicago well know, one of North America's leading classical actors, and many of his scenes here are enjoyably erudite and flamboyant, especially the comic scenes in the company of the skilled and honest likes of such stalwarts as Sean Fortunato (who plays Le Bret) and Ross Lehman (as the generous pastry cook Ragueneau, a wonderfully named character whose moniker sounds like a delicious sauce).

Harry Groener makes an enchanting Cyrano. Anthony Burgess’s adaptation is tight and well-paced… and the actors tackle the text with a plainspoken naturalism that gives each performance an air of comfort and confidence. There is a sense of play, and nowhere is this more apparent than in Harry Groener’s show-stealing turn in the title role. Connected to every moment, with a seemingly infinite bag of tricks at his disposal, Groener treats every word as a weapon and doesn’t waste a shot.

We're used to thinking of Cyrano's nose as the liability he overcomes to achieve nobility—the mask that hides his inner beauty. In fact, it's the nose that goads him on to those traits, for better and for worse. It drives him to every brave and foolish gesture. It gives him his brilliance, his sensitivity, and his profoundly stupid stubbornness. It makes him an enemy to his own best interests, and to those of the person he least wants to hurt. Like I said: a tragedy. Metropulos and company turn it into a fluid and gorgeous one. Fight director Rick Sordelet supplies some of the best swordplay I've seen on a stage. The set by Kevin Depinet includes projections of clouds and of the moon that confer just the right suggestion of a dream, while Chicago Shakespeare regulars like Ross Lehman, William Dick, Wendy Robie, and Sean Fortunato counterbalance the dream with their affable reality.

If you require another reason to see Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Edmond Rostand's 1897 romance "Cyrano de Bergerac" besides its grand scale, lovely writing and artful balance of humor and action, Harry Groener is it. Winner of the 2011 Joseph Jefferson Award for his performance in CST's "The Madness of George III," Groener plays with easy grace and understated emotion the titular poet-soldier and unrequited lover whose outsize proboscis is surpassed only by his noble spirit. Ultimately, the success of any production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" rests primarily with its Cyrano, an iconic character who needs—no, demands—an accomplished and eloquent actor. Chicago Shakespeare Theater has such an actor. And his name is Harry Groener.

This production is NOT TO BE MISSED! Cyrano is a commanding presence, swashbuckling, improvising wonderful rhymes with each thrust of his sword in a dazzling duel, linguistically brilliant, and painfully sensitive. Groener captures every facet and emotion of this complex and highly sympathetic figure. In a virtuoso performance, he  reaches the heights and depths of Cyrano’s  passion for his cousin, the lovely Roxanne (Julie Jesneck) and brings us to agony as we empathize with  his  torment in ghost writing love letters for his handsome, inarticulate rival Christian (Nick Dillenburg). The story and acting are so heart wrenching that many in the audience were wiping away tears at the same moment that they rose for the highly deserved standing ovation.

Currently magnificently staged by Penny Metropulos, Rostand’s historical romance sweeps as widely as stagecraft allows: Kevin Depinet’s wooden Gothic arches and balconies frame the action with storybook precision. The story is made immensely entertaining by Rostand’s canny zest for the grand flourish. You see it in bustling, richly-textured scenes set in a theater, pastry shop, battlefield and convent. Better, you hear it in Cyrano’s stunning tours-de-force: the relentless mockery in which he ingeniously reviles his nose (a privilege he cedes to no one else); his poetic duel with a suicidal idiot who insulted that proboscis; his eloquent declarations of independence from court and church; and his tall tale of a visit to a planet where sex is compulsory and the inhabitants very thin.

Audience Response

"If you want a night out with plenty of laughs with an all-star cast and fantastic all around acting—Cyrano de Bergerac is the way to go."
- Charles H.  

Cyrano was fabulous! Beyond expectations, and I have high expectations for Chicago Shakespeare Theater. Wonderful.
- Kathy O.  

A must to see: CYRANO DE BERGERAC at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. I was honored to be able to see it last night. Highly recommend!!
- Manuel G.  

See "Cyrano" at @ChicagoShakes. Funny, lyrical, and actually moving; Harry Groener best I've ever seen in role.
- Peter Sagal  

A Great Cyrano. I said great. Cyrano @chicagoshakes
- Lin Brehmer  

"Director Penny Metropulos and company delivered a top-notch Cyrano last night! It's worth the trip."
- Jeff S.  

Excellent theater! All of the actors were good, especially the lead. It's easy to go over the top with this role, and he got it just right. This is one of my favorite plays and I've seen several productions of it. This Cyrano hit all my favorite lines beautifully.
-Kathy, TripAdvisor

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