The Theater at Monmouth began its 47th season with a classic tale scaled down to its romantic essence and generously flavored with comedy.
Jo Roets’ adaptation of Edmond Rostand’s 1897 work “Cyrano de Bergerac” employs just three performers and takes only 60 minutes to sketch the story of an extraordinary 17th-century poet/hero whose insecurity about his physical appearance forces him to put his words of love into the mouth of another man.
Christopher Holt takes the lead role, sporting a noticeable but not-all-that-big prosthetic nose that is the object of many jokes. With his fanciful period costume, including a plumed hat, and a wise-cracking style of delivery, Holt successfully worked the comedy while still being able to move abruptly in more dramatic directions.
His Cyrano was convincing in his dictum that only he is allowed to make fun of his nose, underscoring his point with well-done flashes of onstage swordplay, as well as references to offstage heroics. Holt elevated his chivalrous character to the point where one understood how Cyrano and the handsome Christian, when partnered in their pursuit of the lovely Roxanne, together would make “the perfect romantic hero.”
Marjolaine Whittlesey, as their love interest, revealed an understanding of Roets’ playfulness with the source material, while not sacrificing all of its drama. Her attempts to draw the romantic words, which only the poetic Cyrano could fashion, out of her paramour Christian were a comedic highlight. Her switch to a more mature perspective at the close required perhaps more exploration than this play would allow. But her moments in reminiscence with Cyrano, as well as her last words to him, were moving.
Tim Kopacz has a busy time playing multiple roles, with quick costume changes occurring both on and off stage. As the aristocratic suitor De Guiche, he became a laughable foil for the manipulations of Roxanne. His sturdy, if unimaginative, Christian also earned laughs in his attempts to woo her without the masterful wordsmith Cyrano at his side.
Detailed period costumes by Michelle Handley drew the eye while the minimally appointed, multi-level set by Meg Anderson established just enough context. Warm lighting by Jim Alexander gave an attractive glow to Whittlesey and Director Tess Van Horn’s use of movement across the length and depth of the stage enhanced the storytelling.
As a brief but highly entertaining variation on a classic, this “Cyrano” provides a strong start to the season at Monmouth.
Steve Feeney is a freelance writer who lives in Portland.