“Cyrano,” showing at the Yale Cabaret this weekend, is perfect cabaret fare. The lighthearted send-up of the classic play coyly charms and engages the audience, yet is substantial enough to satisfy the serious theatergoer’s appetite.
The brief one-hour script, whittled and refashioned by Jo Roets, involves only three cast members as they verbally parry and sweetly seduce. The intelligent and witty Cyrano de Bergerac (LeRoy McClain) longs after his cousin, Roxane (Anita Gandhi), but refrains from disclosing his amorous affections because of his insecurities about his huge, long — nose. Meanwhile, Roxane has her sights set on the handsome, if verbally inept, Christian (Jeffrey Withers). When Christian approaches Cyrano for assistance in wooing Roxane, Cyrano decides that Christian will be the perfect mouthpiece through which to express Cyrano’s long-withheld exultations of love. What ensues, of course, is rowdy comedy mingled with bittersweet reflections on true love and beauty.
Director May Adrales chooses not to outfit McClain with a ridiculous fake nose, which proves to be a wise choice. Not only is a prosthetic nose difficult to integrate believably, but without the fake nose Cyrano can choose to acknowledge or forget about his physical deformity at will. For example, during a tender love scene on the balcony, Cyrano, shielded by the dark, pours out his affections for Roxane with beautiful eloquence. Roxane, believing the voice she hears is Christian’s, makes reference to his “good looks”. Cyrano is immediately pulled out of the moment and strokes the length of nose sadly and thoughtfully. At other moments in the play, when Cyrano makes fun of his own enormous nose, the nose is mimed to indicate a length of up to several feet long.
The actors are incredibly strong throughout. Gandhi has a certain pleasing musicality in her voice that lends her Roxane the right mixture of intellect, passion, and effervescent joy over being in love. Aided solely by a yellow scarf (which he drapes across himself in a variety of fashions), Withers plays no less than nine characters, each one hilarious and completely different from the last. McClain gives his Cyrano such charisma that you can’t help loving him from the start.
Adrales’ decision to have a multicultural cast is also a fascinating choice that speaks volumes to an audience’s assumptions about surface looks and love.
The show makes excellent use of the Cabaret space: by fashioning a sort of cross in the middle of the room, the actors simultaneously engage the audience (often nudging and invoking the theatergoers in humorous sidebars) while avoiding cramming the unwieldy tables and chairs to one side of the room. The one difficulty with performing in the round seems to be the lighting. It may have been merely my particular seat in the space, but the lights shone directly in my eyes.
This is one tight show — the script is delightful, the actors are brilliant, and the pace never slackens throughout. If you have a nose for excellent one-act theater, see this show.
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