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Sep. 21, 2019 | Saturday
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Review: Wonderful Cyrano will break your heart
Tom Rooney as Cyrano and Deborah Hay as Roxane with Sharry Flett as Companion in Cyrano de Bergerac. (Submitted photo by Emily Cooper)

REVIEW BY MIKE KEENAN, SPECIAL

 

Some bad-asses are considered vulgar and belligerent, people who exhibit unpleasant and extreme behavior. Then, there are those we admire such as Gen. George Patton, who sliced through the Nazis with his tanks.

Cyrano de Bergerac (Tom Rooney), the heroic French swordsman afflicted with a prolonged proboscis, heroically takes on 100 opponents one dark night while incurring only a single deep gash to one hand.

And in the first scene, he vanquishes Valvert (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster) in a sword fight while simultaneously composing and reciting a poem that ends with a final deft strike. Like contemporary super heroes such as Superman and Batman, he can accomplish anything that he desires – except tell Roxanne (Deborah Hay) that he loves her. 

His tragic flaw is low self-esteem, which dooms him, turns him into a furious fighting machine whom nobody dares encounter and forces him into an intermediary romantic role, aiding and abetting the handsome yet inarticulate, love-struck cadet Christian (Jeff Irving) in his from-a-distance courtship of Roxanne, taken first by appearance and then by prefabricated words. 

I watched Heath Lamberts star as Cyrano at Shaw in 1983, and both Colm Feore and Christopher Plummer took on the demanding role at Stratford. Now, it’s Stratford heavyweight Rooney (oh so good in “Victory”) in his debut season at Shaw, and he is phenomenal, forcing all of the action throughout the play while probably humming to himself Frank Sinatra’s signature song, “My Way.” 

Set in 17th-century France, Kate Hennig translated and adapted Edmond Rostand’s verse, adeptly changing it to prose, thus allowing a modern sensibility, and Rooney runs with the freedom, cracking up the audience throughout the play with his witticisms, many alluding to his nose.

He even has the audacity to joke in his death scene when he revels in his “panache” and he gets away with it, the audience totally won over by his craft, standing and stridently cheering his performance, many loudly shouting out their approval.

Humorously melodramatic Hay is liberated also and besides soundly playing the infatuated Roxanne, her comic moments (“Tell me more”) encourage the word-sluggish Irving, and she bravely transports a carriage full of food through enemy Spanish lines at the siege of Arras where Cyrano, Christian and the French are starving.

Chris Abraham directs with amusing cross-dressing cast selections and his collaborations with designers Julie Fox and Kimberly Purtell produce perfect lighting for war and romance as well as costumes, wigs, makeup and prosthetics that are extraordinary. 

This is the story of unrequited love for both Cyrano and Christian, secretly married to Roxanne to foil the evil commander De Guiche, played perfectly by Patrick Galligan, who whisks them away to war before the marriage is consummated.

And thus the pathos of the final convent scene where Roxanne languishes, visited by Cyrano faithfully every Saturday for many years. The woman sitting beside me was so taken that I heard her exclaim to her friend, “I’m coming back to see this again!” Ah, the power of the broken heart.

Cyrano by Edmond Rostand, translated and adapted by Kate Hennig, directed by Chris Abraham plays until Oct. 20 at the Royal George Theatre, 85 Queen St., Niagara-on-the-Lake. shawfest.com or 1-800-511-7429.

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