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New Deaf West and Fountain Theatre Coproduction of "Cyrano" Is Skillful and Impressive
I’ve never seen a production of Cyrano de Bergerac I didn’t like. This statement becomes a bit less grand when it is admitted that I’ve seen no more than 10 versions over the years, but nevertheless, there is something about Edmond Rostand’s classic that always rings true. And so it continues with the new co-production and modernization by the Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre, Cyrano. Although certain details of character and the plot have changed, the original heart of the play still beats steadfastly, buoyed up by terrific performances and dazzling video design.
In this iteration, Cyrano (Troy Kotsur) is not encumbered by an outsized schnozz but is instead deaf. He is a glorious poet in American Sign Language, although he has no inclination to join the local Deaf Poetry Jam, regardless of the encouragement to do so from his friend Bill (Bob Hiltermann). Instead he pines for poetry aficionado Roxy (Erinn Anova), but he fears his deafness would be an impassable barrier between them. When Roxy admits she is attracted to Cyrano’s rock guitarist brother Chris (Paul Raci), he is initially depressed, but then realizes he can supply the verbally awkward Chris with his poetic words to romance Roxy via countless emails. There are a few big flaws in this plan, however, which Cyrano will have cause to regret.
Kotsur owns the stage every moment he’s on it, whether he’s putting a barroom tough in his place or sending Roxy into a swoon with his poetry, in a performance of great charisma and wit. The actor who provides Cyrano’s voice for the hearing audience, Victor Warren, does a superb job, merging smoothly with Kotsur’s work. Raci, a hearing actor who also performs in ASL, brings humor and sympathy to Chris, a nice guy who is unfortunately not quite the man Roxy wants. Anova is charming as the guileless Roxy, and Hiltermann is winning as the one friend Cyrano has left.
Perhaps the biggest challenge of this show is logistics, keeping the interplay of deaf and hearing actors clear for the audience, juggling spoken dialogue, ASL and actors voicing the deaf performers, and director Simon Levy stages all of this complexity with admirable clarity. Stephen Sachs’ adaptation generally is successful, particularly the change of the young officer character from the original play now being Cyrano’s brother, which casts a different light on the final proceedings. My only real quibble with this new version is that some of the supporting characters seem thinly drawn, and that there’s an overuse of crude humor, which seems out of place here.
Jeffrey Elias Teeter’s amazing video design is one of the best I’ve ever seen, both in conception and execution. The crisp and striking images provide various backdrops, and in an impressive instance, change as two characters walk down a street, keeping up with them. Not only that, but they’re used for subtitles and IMs and emails as well, in some truly remarkable work. Finally, one thing this production has that no other Cyrano has previously had is the delicious irony that it’s about Cyrano standing in the shadows providing words while another stands in the light and delivers them. You still have that here, but now there is the further layer of an actor standing behind Cyrano, providing a voice for the character providing the ASL words translated by the man standing in the light.
"Cyrano" plays through June 10 at the Fountain Theatre. Tickets are available online.