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How UM’s Cyrano gets its panache back

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If you haven’t seen Cyrano de Bergerac in a while—and I’m guessing most non-theater-goers haven’t seen it since Gerard Depardieu’s 1990 film adaptation—you probably only recall a couple of things about the story. One: Cyrano has a preposterously large nose. Two: Cyrano has poetic panache and he uses that talent to help a handsome but inarticulate man, Christian, woo the beautiful, intelligent Roxane despite the fact that Cyrano himself is in love with her. The play’s iconic scene happens when Christian stands beneath Roxane’s window gesturing dramatically to her as Cyrano speaks the words for him: “I love you! I’m maddened! No more: I tell you, your name in my heart’s a little bell, and as I tremble, Roxane, all the time, so all the time the bell rings your name’s its echo!”

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  • Cathrine L. Walters
  • Mason Wagner, center, stars as Christian in UM’s Cyrano de Bergerac.

Cyrano de Bergerac is a strange hodgepodge of subplots and characters. At the beginning of the story, Cyrano disrupts a theater production and duels a bunch of swordsmen. In the following act, he chastises a baker’s wife for her indiscretions. In the second half of the play, Cyrano and the cadets of Gascoyne go to war against Spain. But these incidents—even the war—are only the backdrop. This is a story that entertains through witty banter and goofy comedy, but at the heart it’s about true love, not judging others and living life fully.

The University of Montana School of Theatre and Dance’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, directed by Randy Bolton, stars the ever-talented G. Stephen Hodgson as the title character. Hodgson plays Cyrano in the subtle way you might imagine Dustin Hoffman or Jeffrey Tambor might play it. Initially, it’s a tough sell. The first 10 minutes of the show, before Cyrano arrives on stage, is already a little slow, primarily because the script is written in couplets, and the lesser actors get stuck in the rut of a plodding rhythm. I expected the panache-filled appearance of Cyrano to cut through that awkwardness like a sword. I expected to feel mesmerized by this irritable but lyrical fellow with the big nose. And, instead, Hodgson sort of saunters on like a nonchalant bar bouncer. Where’s the panache?

Alessia Carpoca’s costumes are fabulously elaborate, with texture and color that pops even when the acting doesn’t. But there is some standout acting here. Jim Thomas as the banished actor Montfleury has a natural comedic sense and Marquis Archuleta plays the vengeful Comte de Guiche with enough ease to make us forget how difficult the language of the play can be. And this is a challenging play. It becomes easy to discern the seasoned actors from the greenhorns.

Henry Maher is colorful as the jolly jack-of-all-trades, Ragueneau, and he and a few other characters definitely bend the production toward a slapstick feel. That’s not bad, except that at some point there needs to be a little weight put toward the love story and there isn’t much. Rigel Rae, who I’ve loved in other productions and who is an excellent actor in general, plays Roxane so light-heartedly it’s hard to believe she’s in love (or even lust) with Christian. Mason Wagner plays Christian sympathetically, with the pained frustration of a man in love with a woman intellectually out of his league. But when the two are in each other’s presence there’s no chemistry. “Christian! Christian!” Roxane yells at one point. “Who are you talking to?” She sounds like an irked mother scolding a child. There’s no sexual tension or passion. Even when she learns the truth about Cyrano, it feels like a small revelation; she commits to loving him with the conviction of someone promising to pick up milk from the store.

It’s amazing, then, that the last scene ends up being so strong. After his underwhelming first appearance, Hodgson’s Cyrano morphs into a complex, larger-than-life character by the end. If we didn’t care about him before, we do now. And it takes an admirable feat of panache to pull that off.

Cyrano de Bergerac continues at the Montana Theatre in UM’s PARTV Center Thu., Oct. 16–Sat., Oct. 18, at 7:30 PM nightly. $20/$16 seniors and students/$10 kids.

This article was updated Oct. 18 to reflect the correct actors name who played Ragueneau.

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