‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ not to be missed

Director David Ivers’ “Cyrano de Bergerac” is a rarity: a near-great production of a great play, as romantic as it is funny, adventurous and glorious on the ear and eye.

I hate to admit that Steve Martin may be the reason the story is so well-known today, but whatever it takes to get people interested in Edmond Rostand’s 1897 masterpiece is fine by me.

Cyrano, an ugly man with a huge nose (Brian Vaughn), loves his beautiful cousin Roxane (Melinda Pfundstein), but feels that beautiful women don’t fall for guys with big noses. Besides, Roxane has asked her cousin’s help in introducing her to the attractive but shallow soldier Christian (Drew Shirley).

In an extraordinary gesture of self-sacrifice, the poetic unrequited lover becomes the conduit between the two, writing letters in the young soldier’s name, speaking in disguise as if he were him.

Roxane and Christian fall in love, but what is she in love with? His words (which are Cyrano’s)? His body (which is his, minus Cyrano’s brain)? If she knew that Cyrano was the soul of Christian, might she indeed be willing to fall in love with an ugly man? War intervenes, though, and the ending, while romantic, is not what you’d expect.

Ivers (an accomplished actor) obviously understands the gut of this script and knows how to service it. Broad comedy becomes poignancy on the turn of a dime, because Ivers is more concerned with establishing a legitimate reality base than going for momentary effects.

Vaughn, who has appeared for years at the Utah festival, is nonetheless a revelation in the title role. He doesn’t try to get by on his considerable charm. He subjugates his talents to the character, so that Vaughn the personality disappears and Cyrano emerges. We laugh uproariously at Cyrano’s bravado, thanks to Vaughn’s gifts for buffoonery, but the actor gets us to see the broken heart of the man as well. It’s a stunningly complete performance.

Ivers is smart enough to not make Vaughn the whole show. Pfundstein is an elegant, sensitive Roxane, and it’s easy to understand why men would die for her. It’s marvelous to note the contrasts in the way she deals with the man she loves and the man she likes.

Ivers orchestrates a terrific ensemble that is matched only by the take-your-breath away costumes and lights. The final scene is a culmination of so many different kinds of creative excellence, that you’re likely to leave the theater overwhelmed.

Don’t schedule sleep too soon afterward. Your brain may be on overdrive hours after having seen it.

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