Edmond Rostand’s Classic Still Touches Hearts
by Rachel Norby
Director Josh Costello’s distilled version of “Cyrano de Bergerac” carefully unfolds surprising transformations in the lovers and their friends. Costello’s adaptation of Edmund Rostand’s poetic “Cyrano” begins with the romantic hero using witty and shocking jokes to compensate for his famous large nose. He builds a list of elaborate insults against his own nose:
Rustic: ‘That thing a nose? Bless me, my lord,
That is a pumpkin, or a giant gourd!’
Helpful: ‘Watch out! The barge is coming through!’
Simple: ‘When is the monument on view?’
Admiring: ‘Sign for a perfumery!’
Dramatic: ‘When it bleeds, the Red Sea!’
As a powerful, engaging Cyrano, William Thomas Hodgson evolves from a hostile soldier into a new kind of “ideal” man. His abrasive demeanor melts to reveal unmatched loyalty and love. Hodgson’s transformation finally moves us deeply.
Roxane (enchanting Leontyne Mbele-Mbong), like so many objects of man’s affection, simply absorbs the idealizations of men. Her aspirations are confined to manipulating the men around her—though she hints of knowing more.
In Act Two, both Cyrano and Roxane become beacons of integrity and generosity. Mbele-Mbong develops her character like no other Roxane I’ve seen. Though she begins as a pawn, she develops into a resolute and sage woman. She has experienced hardship and chooses grace, rather than bitterness.
The earnestness with which Cyrano speaks to Roxane at the end is beautiful. His deception following his friend Christian’s death, which can seem like unnecessary drama, emerges as truly selfless love.
Costello builds on the hundred-year-old poetry by Edmond Rostand. First played in 1897, in France, the verse play became an immediate romantic classic. Rostand sets the scene in 1640 Paris, long before the French Revolution—but change is in the air.
So the characters are chevaliers and a lady who live in a medieval world without many personal choices. Rostand speaks for the common man and his poential. The real Cyrano de Bergerac was a legendary writer and soldier who wrote “A Comical History of the States and Empires of the Moon.” And the Moon appears here, too, shining on centuries of change and hope.
They are all soldiers fighting for France against the Spanish Empire. Rostand has given them the aura of revolutionaries. His ideals of romance and chivalry speak poetically for rebellion, righteousness, and romance.
As a vulnerable hero, Hodgson plays a seething, angry Cyrano. When sweet, clueless Christian is mesmerized by the appendage, Cyrano attacks:
Young blockhead, empty-headed meddler, know
That I am proud to own such an appendage.
‘Tis known, a big nose is indicative
Of a soul affable, and kind, and courteous,
Liberal, brave, just like myself, and such
As you can never dare to dream yourself.
As Christian, the tongue-tied suitor, Steven Flores summons up blank stares and bewildered expressions to make him appear the fool—an excellent Christian. His character develops so that he understands that what he thought was love for Roxane was physical attraction.
Adrian Roberts’ debonair Le Bret is commanding yet caring, just the officer you want in charge. He counteracts the foppish Count de Guiche (delightful Ron Campbell) who portrays aristocratic greed and gaucheness.
The costumes are beautifully designed, but some odd fabrics pop up. Roxane’s dress features modern printed designs, which can be distracting.
“Cyrano” slowly draws us in—until we are completely enchanted. The characters’ intense love is convincing, and Cyrano becomes the idealized warrior, fighting Hypocrisy and Lies. Costello’s “Cyrano” blossoms into a beautiful romance that will live in my memory for a long time.
“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: Ron Campbell, Steven Flores, William Thomas Hodgson, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, and Adrian Roberts.
Banner photo: Adrian Roberts, Steven Flores, Leontyne Mbele-Mbong, William Thomas Hodgson, Ron Campbell. Photos: Kevin Berne