Theater Review: Summer Shakespeare Kicks Off Without the Bard

It’s summer in North Texas, and there are actors onstage with swords and capes under the stars uttering poetic speeches about love. It must be time for Shakespeare Dallas to put on another group of the Bard’s plays again, right? Not quite, because for the first time ever in their 40 seasons, Shakespeare Dallas is turning to another scribe to kick things off: Edmond Rostand’s enduring classic Cyrano de Bergerac.

Executive and artistic director Raphael Parry likes the “kind of poetry” that this event brings to their anniversary season that “both Rostand and Shakespeare would have approved of.” Other Shakespeare theaters do non-Shakespeare plays all the time, particularly Royal Shakespeare Company, so it’s not outside of the realm of possibilities for an entertainment entity to branch out, to liven things up, and play to its strengths of providing accessible classics to a broad audience.

The much-loved and myriad-versioned Cyrano is a great choice for the company’s sensibilities, and for crowds of people used to beautiful language, intrigue, and finely turned plots (as long as they don’t get in the way of their wine and pasta salad picnic spreads).

Parry directs this lively drama with a frenetic pace, an eye for detail, and an ear for the literate language, and he elicits a powerhouse performance from his title lead.

For those unaware of the story: Cyrano (played by recent Foote Festival standout Chris Hury) is a swordsman, a poet, and an intellectual who is in all things excellent except for his grotesquely long nose. He is in love with his cousin, Roxane (Lydia Mackay) whom he considers out of his league due to his visage. To add more insult to his injury, she is infatuated with the handsome young, fellow guardsman Christian (Austin Tindle). Cyrano agrees to woo Roxane with words on the tongue-tied Christian’s behalf to predictably complicated, bittersweet, comedic, and ultimately tragic consequences.

Tindle’s Christian is a naïve and earnest youth, believable as an object of desire, and good straight man to Cyrano. Mackay projects loud and clear on a blustery evening when audio problems were rampant, and provides a whimsical and wry version of the lovely Roxane. David Goodwin as the villain of the play, Comte de Guiche, is an oily, effete courtier of a man with his sights set on Roxane for himself. He poses and primps to a rich, and studied degree.

Finally, everything depends on Cyrano for this play to work, and Hury provides the life and soul in his Herculean effort of memorization and charm in one of the tradition’s most iconic characters.  Hury becomes the honorable paragon of selfless and unrequited love as he duels, recites poetry, swoons, and captures the plays most poignant scene toward the end.

Period costumes by Claudia Stephens are colorful, lacy (in some cases), detailed and fitted well to the characters. Donna Marquet’s set is comprised of beautiful wooden beams in the light towers and many painted, artistic touches in the scenic pieces that run the gamut from bar, to pastry shop, to a garden, to a battlefield, and to a convent.

Rostand’s play is a charming, ultra-literate work of dramatic art. It’s not Shakespeare (frankly, who is?), but it’s still pretty good fun for a summer evening.

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