Review by Senior Theater Critic Dale Reynolds
This new production, an adaptation by Stephen Sachs of Edmund Rostand’s 1897 über-romantic drama, Cyrano de Bergerac, is quite the theatrical experience. A co-production of the gifted Fountain Theatre and the esteemed Deaf West Theatre, this is an extraordinary production of a terrific play, both of which deserve a long life here and a longer life abroad.
Deaf/Hearing Theatre is relatively new to American society, dating back as professional theatre maybe 40 years or so. Plays being, as they mostly are, a vocal medium, the idea of taking actors who are semi- or profoundly-deaf and having them communicate with each other and the audience in American Sign Language (ASL), adds profoundly to the experience, especially when you add hearing/speaking actors who can “shadow” them so both deaf and hearing audiences can be assured of following the action.
Using ASL to complement spoken English automatically adds a poetic dimension to spoken speech, depending on the training of the actor, wherein the fluid hand gestures and intricate facial movements give added meaning to the words. Watching such talented artists as director Simon Levy and producers David Kurs, Laura Hill and Deborah Lawlor have cast, brings out all the complexities in Sachs’ script.
Taking the basic storyline from Rostand, Cyrano (Troy Kotsur), a deaf man, is secretly in love with Roxy (Erinn Anova), a hearing woman. Cyrano is a contemporary poet in a large metropolitan city (lookin’ somewhat like downtown Los Angeles), who disdains his fellow deaf poets and abhors the pretentiousness behind modern hearing-poets. But when he is approached by Roxy, misunderstanding that her interest in him is mostly to get to his hearing/signing rocker-brother, Chris (Paul Raci), with his long hair, tattoos and pot. Cyrano is in love, but, fearing rejection, can’t let Roxy know, so he subsumes his love by texting love notes to her via Chris’ cellphone. Roxy is thrilled that the object of her affection/lust is capable of such glorious words, something the smitten, but insecure Chris nervously agrees with.
But when Cy’s best friend, Bill (Bob Hiltermann) encourages Cyrano to approach Roxy with the truth, he panics and fails. Eventually, after disastrously listening to Chris’ crude, un-poetic lyrics of his rocker songs, Roxy learns the truth and, in the adaptation’s best scene, Cyrano, using his poetic signing, wins her over.
Rostand’s drama is still a big hit with audiences, as he wrote it during the climatic flowering of the Romantic Era. He composed his play in five acts, entirely in French verse, in rhyming couplets of 12 syllables per line. Sachs, most fortunately, has not done that, but has found the poetic equivalent in ASL and the most romantic of us will fall into his vision, watching a glorious actor, Troy Kotsur, make the most of his talents opposite a gorgeous actress, Erinn Anova. In addition, Sachs’ adapting of Cyrano’s famous “nose” speech, in which he teaches a dullard what the idiot could have said about his huge nose, into an intelligently amusing speech on what he could have really said about Cyrano being deaf. Brilliant writing.
Director Levy also understands the demands of sign/speaking theatre and has utilized Jeff McLaughlin’s wood and high-end tech-set effectively. The play is filled with laughs, and romantics – such as I am – will glory in its ending.
As stated above, the acting is superlative, beginning with Kotsur and Anova. And a large part of what works on us is the excellent speaking of the shadow-actors, starting with Victor Warren who voices Cyrano, Al Bernstein’s Chris, and James Babbin’s Bill, as well as the entire ensemble, including Martica de Cardenas as Roberta, who runs the hearing-poets coffee shop, along with Raci’s rocker, Chip Bent as a bully, Ipek D. Mehlum, Daniel Durant, Maleni Chaitoo and Eddie Buck. Levy helps them all in their consistently believable characterizations.
C’mon, don’t miss this demonstration of quirky, quality theatre. Go. See it and grow.
Cyrano runs through June 10th at the Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Avenue (just east of Normandie Avenue), Los Angeles, CA 90029. Tickets: 323.663.1525 or www.FountainTheatre.com.