The Complexities of Love: Thoughts on Burning – February 27, 2016

A modern adaptation of classic plays is a mainstay across all entertainment mediums, and sometimes the subtle changes in the adaptations can bring forth a new interpretation of the original source material as the core themes remain intact. The story of Cyrano de Bergerac is a familiar one, probably best known in popular culture as the Steve Martin film Roxanne, but while that modern adaptation is a mostly humorous (as was the original play), Burning, the modern adaptation written by Ginger Lazarus and presented by the Resonance Ensemble, is somber and thought provoking. I became aware of this adaptation through a friend of mine, who knew one of the actors in the play (which had its world premiere at the Theatre at Saint Clement’s), and asked if I would be interested in going. While I did not have a chance to see the Resonance Ensemble’s production of Cyrano de Bergerac, performed in rep with Burning, I had seen the most recent Broadway production of Cyrano, and so I was already familiar with the nuances of the story.

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Burning is set in an unnamed American town located near an Army base, circa 2008, and the “twist” in this adaptation is the titular character is female, and the external deformity from which the classic Cyrano’s insecurities derived transforms into an internal struggle this modern Cyrano, renamed Cy Burns, carries within her due to her experiences as a gay soldier. Another addition to the adaptation is the discussion and disclosure of the mistreatment of female soldiers in the US Army before the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”, which accentuates the solemnity of an otherwise romantic comedy. Like the original titular character, Cy is adept at using her words (in this case via blog entries) to provoke her enemies and to help the tongue tied soldier Cole woo Rose, a local painter with whom she is also enamored. The antagonist of this adaptation presents itself in the form of Dulac, a high ranking Army officer with a belligerent history with Cy. The overall narrative follows the same story structure of the source material, with unexpected twists at its conclusion.

The set design is minimalist, contained mainly in the general store Cy owns and runs, with the requisite props that entails. The cast of five was amazing, most notably Catherine Curtin as Cy, who balanced her rage at Dulac for disregarding the mistreatment of female soldiers within the Army system with her awkwardness with Rose whenever Rose talks of Cole, as well as her maternal care for Sammy, a young man wishing to escape the small town world in search for a purpose. Also notable was Chris Ceraso as Dulac (parallel to the Comte de Guiche in the original play), whose adherence to duty provides added fuel to Cy’s cause; his interest in Rose comes across subtly and is all the more menacing in context to the action that occurs towards the end of the play.

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There wasn’t so much of a stage door experience, this time ‘round, as there was a talkback moderated by Rachel Reiner, managing director of the Resonance Ensemble with Eric Parness, the play’s director, and the cast after the performance (unbeknownst to me) discussing the origins of the play, its journey from workshop to stage, and the issues imparted within the play. The director and the managing director were alumni of Brandeis University, and there were many other Brandeis alumni in attendance; after the talkback many of the alumni gathered onstage, and I didn’t feel like intruding on that (or waiting afterwards, not knowing how long that would last).

The transformation of a French romantic comedy into an American drama deserves another life after this run, which ends today (February 28, 2016), having performed in rep with Cyrano all this month (yesterday was my only opportunity to see the show). It’s a different yet familiar take on the story of an outspoken yet insecure soldier yearning to find love and acceptance despite the self-perceived obstacles that stand in the way.

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Of Beauty and Panache: Initial Impressions on Cyrano de Bergerac – September 14, 2012

Again, as mentioned in a previous blog entry, the first preview of a play or musical is a highly emotional experience for the cast and audience – both the cast and audience are facing the excitement of the Unknown – for the cast, it is the responsibility of presenting a good first impression to an audience who may or may not know what to expect, so there’s a palpable surge of anticipation and expectation within the theater. Such was the case at the first preview performance of Cyrano de Bergerac currently playing at the American Airlines Theatre for a limited run from September 14 through November 25, 2012.

[Disclaimer: In the spirit of full disclosure, I should state that I am a great admirer of Douglas Hodge, actor, director, singer/songwriter, and all around nice guy, whom I had last seen onstage in La Cage aux Folles – my adventures with that production  and its cast will be an entire blog series of its own. I was ecstatic that he would be returning to Broadway, albeit in a limited run, but I was looking forward to seeing him in a play – so this is an advanced warning that parts of this blog entry may come across as being extremely fan-girly.]

I had bought my ticket (rear mezzanine center left) a little over a month ago at the box office, so I proceeded to the theatre and had asked one of the ushers where the stage door was, as I had brought Doug some light pink roses and a copy of a scrapbook of the photos I had taken during the 2010-2011 run of La Cage. When informed that while the theater’s unofficial stage door was around the other side of the street, the actors would sometimes leave by the front of the theater instead, and the house management would not know from which exit the actors would leave, I was faced with a mini-dilemma. I wanted to be sure to see him after the show (as he would already be at the theater beforehand) and the usher had advised me to speak with the House Manager, who would be able to ensure that my gift would be delivered. So after writing a brief note, handed over the roses and scrapbook to the House Manager (who was standing outside the main lobby).

Light pink roses & the La Cage Scrapbook

Cyrano de Bergerac, written by Edmond Rostand, tells the tale of Cyrano, a brash soldier in the French Army with a flair for composing eloquent verse and biting quips that equals his aptitude as a duelist, who is love with his distant cousin Roxane, but finds himself consumed with self-doubt due to his profoundly large nose. Roxane is in turn in love with Christian (and he with her), a handsome young soldier who has little capacity for wit and verse. Moreover, both men have to contend with the Comte de Guiche, who is also enamored with Roxane. Cyrano offers to aid Christian in his courtship with Roxane by supplying Christian with his verse, believing that with his wit and Christian’s looks, they would be able to win Roxane’s heart. The play had been written in rhyming couplets which added to the elegance of the plot. The production had a dynamic feel with an effective set design, dramatic lighting (including effective strobe lights and appropriate fog) and bold musical accents (there was some music and singing within, relevant to the plot).

The cast was amazing, and as it was the first preview, I did not perceive any first night nerves, or any noticeable mishaps. Having seen Douglas Hodge previously in La Cage aux Folles, I was fully aware of his comic timing, his capacity for impersonations, and his ability to completely inhabit a character; it was quite a revelation to see his dramatic (non-singing) side as Cyrano – the range of emotions he manages to convey in the span of the nearly three-hour play, from bubbling rage to soulful pathos was astounding. I also quite amused that in this production, Cyrano initial entrance is prefaced by his voice echoing around the theater, Phantom style*. Other notable performances came from Clémence Poésy, best known as “Fleur Delacour” in the Harry Potter films, who was impressive in her Broadway debut as Roxane exuding her own brand of courage and charm, though I did note that the intensity of her French accent fluctuated throughout and Patrick Page, who also completely inhabited the precise and haughty role of the Comte de Guiche with great relish.

As this was the first preview, I wasn’t sure if the actors would immediately come out the stage door, or which exit they would leave, but nevertheless I opted to wait in the front lobby – in the note I had written that accompanied my gift, I had asked to meet him (if possible) in the front lobby. I didn’t have to wait too long – Doug came out about twenty minutes after the curtain fell and promptly thanked me for the scrapbook and flowers and greeted me with a hug. When I noticed that he was wearing the same red shirt he had worn a little over two years ago when I had seen him at the Longacre stage door, he laughed and commented that he noticed that too (there was a photo of him in that same shirt in the scrapbook) and thought that he needed to get some new clothes! He signed my playbill, and we chatted a bit before he had to head back in (the cast were having first preview post-show drinks); I thank him and bade him a good night. As I headed home, I thought it was very considerate of him to have taken the time to come out to meet and chat with me (albeit briefly) – this is one of the reasons why I love the theatre and theatre actors, for their generosity in spirit.

Me and Douglas Hodge, outside the theatre

Needless to say, I highly recommend seeing Cyrano de Bergerac if you’re looking for rapid-fire verse spoken by cast of talented actors that run the gamut from comical to romantic to tragic. Limited run through November 25, 2012.

Signed playbill

*Update 10/07/2012 – Went to see the show again (thanks to the TDF Raffle Table at this year’s Broadway Cares/Equity Fights AIDS Flea Market & Auction) and sat mid orchestra left. Unless there had been a change in Cyrano’s initial entrance since the first preview, or whether it was the fact that I had sat in the rear mezzanine center left and was obstructed from my vantage point at the time, Cyrano’s initial entrance was still his booming voice, but was further enhanced by his rather dramatic entrance from the exit doors on the far right side of the theater, with him coming up the right aisle and back around towards the stage. Doug’s performance was astounding as always, his voice a bit strained at times (though considering the amount of dialogue he has, I’m sure it would take a toll after a while) and his final speech brought some tears to my eyes.

The aforementioned mini-dilemma with regards to from which exit the actors would leave the theatre (whether it be via the front of the theater of through the back stage door) was present once again, and I had not had the chance to ask an usher (or find the house manager) which option was the correct one – needless to say, I must have chosen incorrectly [the back stage door], as I was unable to see any of the cast. But that’s all right – I do plan to see this play several more times before the end of the limited run.