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Monday, September 26, 2022
Shaw Review: ‘Cyrano’ is a mix of humour and heartache

The Shaw Festival opened for the season with the official premiere of “Cyrano de Bergerac” on Saturday, one of the first full-house performances since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the lights turned down and artistic director Tim Carroll gave a short introduction, there was a feel in the air that everyone — the audience, the actors, Carroll and even the ushers — was excited to see real people again.

A newbie to theatre reviews and to “Cyrano,” but not new entirely to the theatre, I felt a bit like Christian (Jeff Irving). In the story, Christian doesn’t know the right words to capture the feelings he has toward his love Roxane (Deborah Hay).

In a way, I’m an imposter like him, coasting on what was given to me by “Cyrano” on a moonlit night.

So this isn’t a comparison to other performances of “Cyrano,” but a honest review of the Shaw’s depiction after seeing it for the first time.

The play begins with a display of Cyrano’s (Tom Rooney) confidence as he starts a sword fight with a performer and goes to the defence of a singer to fight 100 men. A poet and fierce fighter, Cyrano is famed for his way with words and isn’t humble about his talents.

Rooney, who really steals the show, exudes the confidence of the bitter poet brilliantly, while at the same time portraying his insecurities about the one thing his character obsesses over — he hates his large, protruding nose.

It is his big nose that sets the scene of the whole play. Cyrano, tormented by his looks but a master of words, embraces his nose and becomes the butt of nearly endless self-deprecating puns throughout the nearly three-hour performance.

With such a big nose, Cyrano is certain he will never attract the attention he seeks from his beloved Roxane.

With a slapstick charm, the actors take this sad love story and bring to it a humour that cuts through the sombre, making for a digestible performance — one that’s sure to have you chuckling at the right moments and stir up emotions in others.

As the story goes, Cyrano’s heartthrob Roxane is in love with another man, Christian. But when she asks Cyrano, unbeknown of his love for her, if he will help protect Christian, a smitten but tormented Cyrano agrees.

Christian is handsome but dimwitted and far less of a wordsmith, so Cyrano begins writing Roxane flowery letters in his name — which are passioned from his true love for her.

It’s a complex situation, ripe for humour and heartache, as Roxane begins to fall in love with Christian’s words, not knowing she’s actually falling for Cyrano.

Act one sets the scene, as Comte de Guiche (Patrick Galligan), another man who is in love with the beautiful Roxane, sends Christian off to war out of vengeance for him marrying Roxane. Cyrano follows Christian to battle, having promised on his behalf that he would write to her often.

In act two, the love story unfolds as Christian is tragically killed on the field of battle and Cyrano decides to keep his secret from Roxane, who confesses she would love Christian “even if he was ugly.”

From there, the tragedy stews, as we meet Cyrano and Roxane 20 years later, as the two share a weekly meeting in a church to pay respects to the fallen Christian, all that time later.

When Cyrano is struck by a falling log and doomed to die, it’s only then, as he spirals into poetic professions, that Roxane recognizes his words – the voice she’d heard coming from the yard on those moonlit nights.

She then professes her love for Cyrano as he dies and the curtain falls.

Throughout the performance, the Shaw’s set designs flow seamlessly, like a magic show, where actors direct your eyes to one side of the stage and by the time you turn back, the sets have changed — all centred around one wooden pillar. It’s pretty incredible to see.

And that feeling in the air returned once again, as the crowd gave the opening night performance a standing ovation. More than any other play I’ve seen, the smiles in the faces of the cast were beaming — almost tearful — to see a theatre full of real people applauding.

All around, this show, on till May 8 at the Royal George Theatre, is not one to miss.