Confession time: When I fell in love with theatre, I really fell for Cyrano, Roxanne, Christian and their heady love triangle. And the swashbuckling. And the language. Edmond Rostand’s heroic and poetic swordsman with the prominent nose practically leapt off the page for me and my imagination as a high school student. My heart skipped a few beats when I learned that Synetic had adapted my high school crush on Cyrano de Bergerac as one of their wordless explorations of a classic.
Synetic’s Cyrano is memorable, and still tugs the heartstrings for the unrequited romance between Roxane and the title character. And the wordless, kinetic storytelling certainly fills the stage with many moments in which to revel, living up to the high production and performance values we have grown to expect from the company. But there are only passing resemblances to Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac and there are aspects of the original I missed terribly, even as impressed as I was by the spectacle unfolding onstage.
What worked well was that on which Synetic has built their impeccable reputation: the power of movement coupled with fantastic design work.
Making his debut as a director Vato Tsikurishvili has taken Rostand’s story, originally set in the 17th century world of musketeers, rapiers and witty repartee, into an adult-sized playground where a lovely young dancer – Roxane – and her childhood friend, Cyrano frolic and thrive, playfully sharing a snack and wiling away the time as only whimsical children can. Cyrano is no longer a dashing and confident guardsman with a flashing sword and dashing wit. Now, Cyrano is a knock-about clown with the soul of a poet, who clearly holds an eternal candle for his tiny dancer, Roxane. And he still sports an elongated nose, this time accented with a red-tip, leaning more towards Commedia dell’Arte.
In fact all the characters’ costumes fall somewhere in the continuum of carnival and commedia, designed with a stylish flair by Alison Samantha Johnson. The playful set of ramps, nooks and crannies, painted to resemble a child’s nursery was designed by Phil Charlwood, working closely with lighting designer Brian S. Allard to provide an open and fertile place for Tsikurishvili’s cast to bring the clown-inspired adaptation to life.
Due to illness, Justin Bell, originally cast Synetic company member, was replaced by Vato Tsikurishvili himself switching his director’s hat for Cyrano’s nose. Tsikurishvili brings to the stage not only a bold vision for this adaptation, he truly inhabits Cyrano, displaying his poetic soul and struggling to be confident facing the world in the best tradition of classic clowns such as Charlie Chaplin. Without Rostand’s florid verse to arm his Cyrano, Tsikurishvili has only his expressive face and supple body, well-trained as a Synetic student and now teacher. He not only sells this broken-hearted clown interpretation of Cyrano, he delivers the goods effortlessly.
As his muse and unrequited love, Roxanne, Maryam Najafzada commands the stage as the Columbine to Tsikurishvili’s Harlequin. Najafzada fully embodies the simplicity of Roxane – her friendly devotion to Cyrano and being smitten by the more handsome and conventional Christian – played with style by Matt R. Stover. By the time age catches up with Cyrano and Roxane, their bodies bent and slowed down, their connection grows even stronger. At this time, and throughout the 90-minute piece, Tsikurishvili and Najafzada truly show that there is poetry in motion.
Another innovation of Tsikurishvili’s production is the embodiment of time by performer Ana Tsikurishvili, sister of the director and another product of the Synetic program. As an expressive dancer, Ana performs the stylized personification of Time as a spectre, ever looming over Cyrano and Roxanne’s lives, creating vivid imagery. She and the rest of the company execute the vision of Vato Tsikurishvili and the intricate choreography by Irina Tsikurishvili with flawless grace and a depth of expression.
This clown-centric Cyrano is beautifully accented and accompanied by a wide-ranging musical score and soundscape by resident composer Konstantine Lortkipanidze, complete with ticking clocks, music box sounds and a balance of intimacy and scope that flavors the playful world perfectly.
Cyrano de Bergerac
closes March 10, 2019
Details and tickets
Within the world Tsikurishvili has created for his vision of Cyrano de Bergerac, I feel as if the show succeeded and met anyone’s expectations from a Synetic performance. That being said, I still felt like the missing pieces – the spoken verse and even the sword play. I fully agree that choreographed movement and expressive bodies can tell a story without the spoken word, but what of Rostand’s poetic script? (Or the Brian Hooker or Anthony Burgess’ English versions, the most likely to be heard on our stages.) I longed for the “nose speech” where Cyrano defends himself against a luddite with a litany of comical insults, playful puns about his large nose. “That’s an idea, sir, of what you might have said, if you’d an ounce of wit or letters in your head: but of wit, O most lamentable creature you’ve never had an atom, and you feature three letters only, and those three spell: A-s-s!” Or the full balcony scene where Cyrano stands-in for Christian wooing Roxanne with vibrant verse that would capture the heart of the hardest vixen.
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And I missed the the duels Cyrano engages in several times during Rostand’s full plot. The historical Cyrano – actually Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac – was as famous for being a duellist and swordsman as he was for being a member of the Gascoyne Cadets, an epistolarian, a playwright and even a writer of science fiction! Of course all of his accomplishments are not included in Rostand’s romantic play, but the only ones included in Synetic’s adaptation is the letter-writing and the prominent nose.
Yet, it still works, especially within the confines of the world fashioned by Tsikurishvili with his collaborators and performers. Even if this adaptation missed many other of Cyrano’s salient qualities, the beauty and clarity of storytelling through movement and dance is not diminished. As a director, Vato Tsikurishvili appears to be on his way to joining his father and mother, Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili – Synetic Theater’s co-founders – in creating new and excited work and rethinking the classics.
Cyrano de Bergerac . Adapted from Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac . Adaptation by Nathan Weinberger . Directed by Vato Tsikurishvili . Choreographed by Irina Tsikurishvili . Featuring: Vato Tsikurishvili, Maryam Najafzada, Matt R. Stover, Philip Fletcher, Ana Tsikurishvili, and Anne Flowers . Scenic design by Phil Charlwood . Lighting design by Brian S. Allard . Resident Composer and Sound Design by Koki Lortkipanidze . Costume design by Alison Samantha Johnson . Stage manager Marley Giggey and Sarah Kate Bode . Produced by Synetic Theater . Reviewed by Jeff Walker.