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Gay News Sponsor Windy City Times 2018-11-14
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by Jonathan Abarbanel, Windy City Times

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Playwright Edmond Rostand, translated/adapted by Michael Hollinger & Aaron Posner

At: BoHo Theatre at Theater Wit, 1229 W. Belmont. Tickets: 773-975-8150;; $30. Runs through: April 15

Cyrano de Bergerac, translated/adapted many times from the French original, concerns the power of words to engage and persuade and express one's soul. Language alone teaches Roxane—the initially-callow heroine— to love beyond a handsome face and figure. The ugly hero, Cyrano, also uses linguistic power to fight to-the-death his old enemies, "hypocrisy, prejudice, cowardice and compromise." Although never intended to make political statements, Cyrano does so in the age of Donald Trump, a pig-faced, clown-haired and lying man whose inability to speak with coherence or eloquence is manifest. Of course, the Devil also speaks with a silvered tongue, if not Trump himself.

It's wonderful, therefore, to see an engaging and vigorously-performed version of Cyrano in accessible, robust ( although not slangy ) 21st century English, which nonetheless is faithful to the story, characters and values of Rostand's 1897 neo-classical work in rhymed verse. This version partly is in rhymed verse and partly in prose, but either way it puts language at the forefront. All of Rostand's brilliant and audience-pleasing set pieces——the sword fight while reciting poetry, the passionate balcony wooing scene, Cyrano's rejection of sycophancy, the tender death scene—are preserved here while also re-invigorating the text.

The dramatic classics are not BoHo's standard fare, so Cyrano definitely is a stretch for them, and kudos for that. Viewed at the last preview, the production is somewhat mixed but succeeds more often than not. Director Steve O'Connell paces the show well, with dashing assistance from fight choreographer Jon Beal. O'Connell understands the elegance, bravado, romance and humor of Cyrano and when to play each mood. Lead actors Michael B. Woods ( Cyrano ), Vahishta Vafadari ( Roxanne ) and Zach Livingston ( Christian ) are appealing players and masters of the text ( especially Woods in the singularly demanding title role ). Strong supporting work is provided by Stephen Peebles as Cyrano's captain, Le Bret, and by Kristin Hammargren skillfully donning britches as Viscomte De Guiche, one of several examples of cross-gender casting in this production. Even so, lines occasionally are shouted out and spoken too fast, especially among the smaller supporting roles.

Scenic designer Patrick Ham's broad end-stage setting provides a dark, rough-hewn brick wall with a wide-archway here, a balcony there and a round chandelier overhead, easily suggestive of mid-17th century France, whether castle or convent. Christina Leinicke's leather ( mostly ) and lace costumes aren't elaborate but nicely suggest the time period and move well. But, please, give Cyrano a costume change for the last scene, 15 years later!

Small detail: director O'Connell seems not to know the French word, "panache." It's the white feather in Cyrano's hat, which should be on his head or in his lap at the end, not tossed aside half-hidden from audience view.

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