Josh Costello Revives Soldier-Poet for Our Time
by Lynne Stevens
I’ve always felt that an intelligent, witty man is much more attractive than one who is merely lucky to be handsome. I always liked the guy who was smart and funny. Appearance was secondary.
For “Cyrano,” the classic tale of a beloved big-nosed hero, Josh Costello has condensed the play to fit a cast of five on Aurora’s intimate stage. And these are five larger-than-life characters.
Roxane (graceful Leontyne Mbele-Mbong) is attracted to conventional Christian (sweet Steven Flores) who is so slow witted and tongue-tied, we wonder at her judgement. Flores plays the dimwit so well; we wonder what Roxane sees in him. Roxane even rolls her eyes as she exits after encountering him.
This is the beginning of a love triangle. It’s hard to believe that Roxane believes that Christian, himself, is speaking from under the balcony. She is so hungry to hear herself praised that she cannot see reality.
Other than looks, it’s difficult to see why she would prefer Christian over Cyrano (charming William Thomas Hodgson) with whom she has happily been conversing for years. Maybe it’s as plain as the nose on his face. She wants what Cyrano has always given her—but in a prettier package.
As Cyrano, Hodgson treats us to a hilarious round of self-deprecating nose jokes. With his usual panache, Cyrano consoles his fellow soldier, Christian. Cyrano delivers all manner of taunts about his own out-sized sniffer, to outflank the snobs.
His nose is a “peninsula.” It needs its own hat or a “small umbrella.” By diminishing himself, Cyrano tries to lift Christian’s confidence for his rendezvous with Roxane. Although Cyrano jests openly about his nose, his lack of confidence prevents him from declaring his love to Roxane. Indeed, he is “throwing away” his shot.
Also swooning over Roxane, arrogant Count De Guiche (natural clown Ron Campbell) plays the fool. With his snuff box and lace cuffs, De Guiche is an aristocratic buffoon. Costume designer Maggie Whitaker’s fabulous puffy pantaloons proclaim De Guiche’s folly. Pretentiously strutting the stage, Campbell’s satirical comedy thoroughly ridicules upper-class bullies.
When Roxanne and Le Guiche volley air kisses back and forth across the stage, we laugh at their ridiculousness. She doesn’t want anything to do with him but keeps him waiting in the wings.
De Guiche is comically overwhelmed by superior swordsman Cyrano. Hodgson’s unbounded energy and fantastical jokes have the audience roaring with laughter. Cyrano stands up for all the people De Guiche has bullied, offering satisfaction for underdogs everywhere.
The second half gets military as the French attack the Spanish Empire. It’s a bit of a letdown and lacks the crackle of the first half. Le Bret, Cyrano’s best friend (impressive Adrian Roberts) commands the troops from atop the battlements–Roxane’s balcony doing double duty.
While the actors are all excellent, each nailing a “type,” the result lacks a strong focus. In the end we find Roxane sharing witty banter with her ailing old friend Cyrano. How I wish he had seized the day!
“Cyrano” by Edmond Rostand, adapted & directed by Josh Costello, scenic design by Carlos Aceves, costumes designed by Maggie Whitaker, at Aurora Theatre, Berkeley. Info: AuroraTheatre.org – to May 7, 2023. Streaming: May 2 – May 7, 2023.
Cast: William Thomas Hodgson, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, Ron Campbell, Adrian Roberts, and Steven Flores.
Banner photo: William Thomas Hodgson & Leontyne Mbele-Mbong. Photos by Kevin Berne