High hopes surrounded Chicago Shakespeare Theater's Cyrano de Bergerac, the 1897 play by Edmond Rostand translated for the stage by Anthony Burgess.
This is Harry Groener's return to CST following his triumphant, award-winning turn in The Madness of George III in 2011. In that production, directed by Penny Metropulos, he created a character so grandly realized, it remains one of the most remarkable performances of this writer's experience.
Groener has again teamed with Metropulos in an iconic role that has all the elements of another stirring stage creation. The witty and lyrical Cyrano offers a chance for an actor to revel in both word and swordplay. An outsider who longs to be loved, Cyrano knows (nose) it'll take more than flowery speeches to win over the heart of his beloved Roxanne (who also happens to be his cousin -- a point that makes for an admittedly uncomfortable overtone to Cyrano's incessant wooing, even if this was common practice in the 19th century).
And the result? Well, as I looked around at the sleepy opening night audience near the 2.5 hour mark of this 3-plus hour play, I can safely say this production misses the mark by a more than a nose.
What's the issue? Metropulos's direction is fine, if flat. Production values, including some pretty jewel-tone gowns designed by Susan E. Mickey, are lovely, but uninspired. The showy Groener gives his all, but his scenes between Roxanne (Julie Jesneck) feel off. The mousey Jesneck offers a Roxanne that's intelligent and grounded, but lacking vulnerability. She also seems kind of a brat. One isn't quite sure what all the fuss over her is, especially from Christian (Nick Dillenburg), a pretty boy who lacks the gift of gab (thus leans on Cyrano) but remains gobsmacked by Roxanne's beauty.
And from there, the entire show unravels. If you aren't engaged in the central love triangle, no amount of flowery words and pretty costumes are going to convince you otherwise.
"Cyrano de Bergerac" plays through November 10 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater. More info here >