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CST’s 'Cyrano de Bergerac' Lavish—But Emotionally Lacking

By Melody Udell in Arts & Entertainment on Oct 5, 2013 6:15PM

Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo by Liz Lauren.

Cyrano de Bergerac has a lot going for him. The 17th-century French nobleman uses his superior intellectual gifts — particularly his lyrical wit — to subdue his enemies and entertain his friends.

But for all his arrogant swagger and quick-witted tongue-lashings, Cyrano is admittedly a little insecure. He feels that his protuberant nose renders him too ugly to be loved at all.
The fear of going unloved drives the action in Chicago Shakespeare Theater’s lavish production of Cyrano de Bergerac.

As Cyrano, Harry Groener, a Jeff Award winner for his lead portrayal in The Madness of King George III, does the heavy-lifting. On stage, he’s an unwavering force surrounded by his friends and fellow soldiers--but we quickly see his vulnerable side when he admits to his comrade La Bret (Sean Fortunato) that he's secretly in love with the beautiful Roxane (Julie Jesneck).

Cyrano is convinced Roxane could never love him, so instead, he helps the handsome but slow-witted Christian (Nick Dillenburg) woo the lovely heiress. Cyrano serves as Christian’s ghost writer and produces extravagant love letters to Roxane. Their ploy works: Roxane falls in love with Christian because she thinks he’s as achingly eloquent as he his good looking. Cyrano, then, is left with nothing but his unrequited love.

Scenic designer Kevin Depinet provides a rich, wood-beamed set that takes us from a Romeo & Juliet-style balcony scene to pastry shop, a convent garden and a French battlefield, where Cyrano and Christian have been ordered to the front lines. It’s here that director Penny Metropulos’s staging is supposed to be the most dramatic — Christian realizes Roxane loves him only because of Cyrano’s words.

Yet this complicated little love triangle isn’t terribly affecting. Instead of a heart-breaking him-or-me conclusion, the audience feels bereft of true love — somehow, we’re not rooting for either suitor. And we’re not rooting for Roxane, either. Instead of portraying a young woman looking for her intellectual equal, her insistence on poetic declarations of love quickly grows tiresome.

Metropulos’s production is a lot like the pretty boy Christian. Thanks to beautifully detailed costumes by Susan Mickey and a hard-working ensemble (Ross Lehman as the baker Ragueneau is a stand-out), the play is beautifully wrought. Ultimately, though, the content fails to fully satisfy on an emotional level. After three long hours waiting for the big emotional payout, we’re left wishing the production focused a little less on looks and a little more on what truly matters: the heart-wrenching, raw power of unrequited love.

Cyrano de Bergerac runs through Sunday, Nov. 10 at Chicago Shakespeare Theater, 800 E. Grand Ave., 312-595-5600 or online.