By Chris Joseph
By Michael E. Miller
By Kyle Swenson
By David Villano
By Kyle Swenson
By John Thomason
By Michele Eve
This is not a review. It is an autopsy.
When did Cyrano die, and why? Who killed him? These are the only pertinent questions right now. There is no need to wonder if Cyrano has any redeeming qualities (it doesn't) or if viewing it in a particular frame of mind might improve the experience (it won't — though boneless, desperate drunkenness couldn't hurt). Anybody who sits down to see this thing is committing to an evening of terrible pity, embarrassment, confusion, and loathing, and nothing's going to change that.
One could stop there. Cataclysmic failure visits many theaters from time to time, and the good people of the world generally have the decency to avert their eyes and move along. But we should tarry a moment. Not in the name of sadism, though sadism is fun, and not in the name of gleeful self-mortification, though that's got its perks too. We should tarry a moment because there are weird and inexplicable forces at work in the Mongolian fustercluck currently bleeding its way across the stage at the Promethean Theatre, and for a million reasons, they demand investigation.
Because the Promethean is one of the best companies in three counties. Its work is usually well-directed, clear-headed, and challenging. Director Margaret Ledford's last Promethean play, A Number, was one of the most thoughtful and straight-up coolest productions of the year. Ken Clement, who plays Cyrano's titular protagonist, is the most versatile and obscenely talented actor in South Florida, and his costars are, or should be, similarly delightful: Matthew Chapman has very recently blown minds at both Promethean and Sol Theatre, Christopher Kauffman can do just about anything, and Michaela Cronan's composite character in the Naked Stage's By Any Other Name was magnetic enough to slurp the eyeballs clear out of your head. And Mark E. Hayes, the gentleman responsible for penning this iteration of Cyrano, is just about the smartest guy you could ever hope to meet: a fine writer, a good critic, and a jazz-lit polymath with a heart of gold.
Still, I suspect he's to blame for this mess.
As you might figure, Cyrano is a take on Edmond Rostand's 1897 Cyrano de Bergerac, a rhyming, semifictionalized biographical drama about a multitalented 17th-century nobleman in the French army. He was a duelist, poet, and musician, and he would have been a supreme mack-daddy if it weren't for the hideously disproportionate schnozz growing out of the middle of his face. His prodigious talents and ugly countenance combined to create many uncomfortable situations, most of which involved his beautiful cousin, Roxane, with whom he was deeply in love.
Hayes' adaptation is different from the original in a number of striking ways. Cyrano is now a 21st-century plastic surgeon in Miami. Rather than traipsing off to siege upon Arras, as in Rostand's play, Cyrano goes with his cohorts to practice surgery at a charity hospital in Ecuador. And, perhaps most tellingly, the original play spans 15 years, while this new version takes place over the course of a few months.
Not that there's anything wrong with that. The problem is the method.
If this adaptation had hewn more closely to the original, it would have been fine. Cyrano de Bergerac is, after all, a great play. Or if Hayes had divorced his piece utterly from the original, keeping only the names, themes, and general story arc alive, that might have worked as well. Regrettably, everybody involved in this production seems to have wanted it both ways — to cobble together large bits of Rostand's antiquated verse and story while sprinkling modern elements into the mix, creating a vibe of awkward and seemingly pointless anachronism. And it seems that so much energy was spent trying to get a 21st-century setting to coexist peacefully with 17th-century situations that important dramatic elements — continuity, believability, grace, aesthetics — have been left to rot.
Problem: Cyrano's dialogue switches constantly from ordinary (and well-written) modern speech to flowery old-world poetry, and each makes the other look forced. Characters whose mouths produce both modern prose and old-school verse in rapid succession have a hard time developing consistent personalities, and thus a horrible distance is created between the audience and actors. Whoever these characters are, we don't know them.
Problem: A nobleman in the French military might be a great duelist, but an overweight plastic surgeon? Such a bizarre phenomenon at least deserves an explanation. Instead, we see Clement attacking a nasty doctor with a golf putter for no good reason. This obvious ridiculousness is indicative of the ethos that caused most of the play's other obvious ridiculousnesses, which range from an incredibly unlikely plot hatched in a sauna to a bizarre encounter with (Peruvian? Colombian?) guerrillas in cahoots with a slimy M.D.
One may say, "Fine, great, OK, this isn't realism." But then — problem! Specifically: Why bother? It's obvious that Hayes had some good points to make about beauty and the superficiality of certain kinds of Miamians, but why he had to go ransacking a classic to make those points is doomed to be one of the great mysteries of the universe. Did he do it in the name of Art?
Maybe so, but if that's the case, then we might as well call this production a workshop and pray the thing goes back to the drawing board.
One occurrence near the end of Cyrano most clearly indicates the kind of thing that needs to be stricken from this piece. Early in the play, we are introduced to the owner/barkeep of an establishment called the Ancient Mariner. This is apparently where Cyrano, and most of the folks who work at his hospital, retire for after-work cocktails. Cyrano and the barkeep have what appears to be a standard-issue bartender/valued customer rapport. But when Cyrano and company meet with trouble in Ecuador while doing their charity work, the head of the hospital shows up with this bartender, who says he came "to be with his friends." Unfortunately, we never had a sense that they were friends, and his sudden presence is a total surprise. We don't get the feeling he's there out of loyalty; we get the feeling he's there because Hayes needed him to further his plot. That seems to be the justification for just about everything in this directionless, deeply inorganic drama.