If there’s one word that describes PCPA Theaterfest’s latest production, it’s “panache.”
Directed by Roger DeLaurier, “Cyrano de Bergerac” mixes swordplay with wordplay — providing audiences with a veritable feast of dashing duels, swoon-worthy love scenes and merry bon mots.
Set in Paris in 1640, this period “play in verse,” written by Edmond Rostand with a charming new translation by Ranjit Bolt, tells the timeless tale of a man cursed with a hideous face and a romantic soul. Locked in a love triangle, his attempts to woo in disguise have both comic and tragic consequences.
We’re first introduced to Hercule Savinien Cyrano de Bergerac (Derrick Lee Weeden) — duelist, playwright, poet and possessor of a truly impressive proboscis — when he interrupts a performance by hammy actor Montfleury (Billy Breed) attended by his cousin, the ravishing Lady Roxane (Cara Ricketts) and her would-be suitors, the Comte de Guiche (Greg Linington) and his friend Valvert (George Walker).
Cyrano handily dispatches Montfleury, then engages in a dizzying battle of words with a pest (Zach Johnson) before turning his attention to Valvert. The swordsman is so confident that he composes a ballad as they battle.
Even “a hundred hired assassins” — such as the ones who await drunken poet Ligniere (Paul Henry) at home — can’t deter him.
Yet, despite his triumphs on the battlefield and in the barracks, Cyrano harbors a hidden heartache. He has fallen for fair Roxane, who demands that her suitors be not only brilliant but beautiful.
“I am forbidden/ To dream of being loved,” Cyrano laments to his friend Le Bret (Peter S. Hadres), “spurned out of hand/By even the most hideous in the land, thanks to this nose. …”
When Roxane announces that she wants to see him — they meet at the shop of Ragueneau (Erik Stein), a pastry chef with a soft spot for the literary set — Cyrano is briefly hopeful. However, his hopes are dashed as soon as she announces she has her heart set on handsome young Christian (Tobias Shaw), a new cadet in his company.
Christian likewise has feelings for Roxane. He also has a problem: He’s tongue-tied around the opposite sex.
So Cyrano proposes an unorthodox partnership. He’ll supply the words Christian will use to woo Roxane.
“We’ll both convert our losses into gains,” Cyrano says. “You’ll be my beauty and I’ll be your brains.”
Predictably, their plans go awry.
With his rich, ringing voice and powerful stage presence, Weeden is an ideal Cyrano — a proud, preening man whose sharp sword and sharper tongue win him as many enemies as they do friends. Yet his bravado masks an inner vulnerability.
Weeden is well matched by Ricketts as Roxane. Her wit and spirit rival Cyrano’s own.
As the remaining third of the love triangle, Christian, Shaw suffers a little in comparison. It’s not the actor’s fault; his character simply doesn’t have much to do other than blush, bray and stammer.
Linington, who played Christian in PCPA’s 1993 production of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” faces a trickier task as Comte de Guiche. He must somehow make this haughty nobleman both bothersome and slightly sympathetic.
Rounding out the cast are Jacqueline Hildebrand as Roxane’s chaperone, Toby Tropper as nobleman Cuigy, Christopher George Patterson as captain of the guards Carbon and Elizabeth Stuart as Ragueneau’s wandering wife, as well as a prioress. Katie Wackowksi and Megan C.C. Walker play nuns, while Breed doubles as a dimwitted friar.
All the cast members are clad in sumptuous period costumes designed by Frederick P. Deeben, who also dressed the townspeople of Anatevka in “Fiddler on the Roof” and King Arthur and his knights in “Monty Python’s Spamalot.”
Dave Nofsinger designed the elegant all-purpose set at the Solvang Festival Theater, aided by lighting designer Tamar Geist and sound designer Alberto Yong. (PCPA Theaterfest Artistic Director Mark Booher served as fight choreographer.)
The setting may be splendid, but the most dazzling aspect of “Cyrano de Bergerac” is the dialogue.
The sparkling script, which updates Rostand’s classic story with Bolt’s more modern vernacular, features enough jokes, japes and verbal jabs to fill several comedies.
In fact, if PCPA’s “Cyrano” has a major fault, it’s that it’s almost too funny for its own good. Audience members could be heard chuckling during even the most serious scenes of the play.
Levity can be lovely, but there’s something to be said for a death scene with dignity.
IF YOU GO
"Cyrano de Bergerac"
8 p.m. daily through Sept. 1, except Aug. 26
Solvang Festival Theater, 420 Second St., Solvang
$36.50, discounts available for seniors, students and children
922-8313 or www.pcpa.org