Words are the medium of literature: poetry, novels, theatre. The stage company takes this medium to create the production in which we experience these words. Hearing the articulation and enunciation, with inflection for emphasis and pauses in which the hidden emotions reside, allows us to live these words for the brief evening at the theatre. Some lines are finely crafted, such that we would want to read them on our own, to relish the performance we attended, or to add our own imagination to the script. But, what happens when our imaginations take over to create a reality from the words, a reality that ignores the source of those words? This is the life and times of Cyrano de Bergerac, recently produced at the Blackfriar Theatre, in Stauntan, VA.
Edward Rostand wrote Cyrano’s 17th century life, not at the time, but in 1897, near the turn oft he 20th century. Cyrano’s world was Paris, in which he strode as firmly in the theatre as back alleys and battlefields. Cyrano’s (John Harrell) mistress was poetry. He would defend her against marginal actors, contemptuous socialites, and dullards. His muse was his cousin, Roxane (Sara Hymes), whose eye he could not catch, but whose ear he possessed. She, instead, wanted to merge visual and auditory beauty into one man, Christian (Patrrick Midgley). The play became the epitome of unrequited love.
Cyrano, believing that Roxane would never hear his beautiful words because of his enlarged nose, places his poetry into Christian’s dithering mouth. Christian, however, is sent off to war by the jealous Conte De Guiche (James Keegan). After Christian’s death, Roxane moves into a convent, where Cyrano visits her each Sunday for the next 15 years. Only when Cyrano is dying, does Roxane realize that all these years, his words were those that she loved.
Cyrano de Bergerac is as much about love and mayhem, as the production of Macbeth, which we had seen the night before. While Macbeth may see overtly dark and destructive, Cyrano de Bergerac, too, has sword fights, battles, and death swirling around the central romance. If Macbeth is about a couple striving to achieve, Cyrano de Bergerac is about a couple trying to discover who they are. In Macbeth, Macbeth and Lady Macbeth die because of their belief that they must act to fulfill the weird sister’s prophecies. In Cyrano de Bergerac, Roxane, Christian, and Cyrano fail to achieve their love because they do not believe that the others believe in them.
I found that I could identify with the characters in Cyrano de Bergerac more easily that Macbeth. Maybe this is related to my revulsion to violence and attraction to romance. Maybe this is because most of the characters in Macbeth display traits that I do not associate with my sense of self. In contract, most of the character’s in Cyrano de Bergerac experience love and loss in accessible ways. Who has not felt too ugly to pursue a love-interest? Or, articulate when given time to compose ideas, but tongue-tied in direct interaction, especially when able to talk to the said love-interest? Or, so attracted to someone, that we see what we expect to see, not who is really before us. Macbeth is the nightmare that we want to escape. Cyrano de Bergerac is the unrequited love that we love to re-write in our dreams.
But, revisions would extinguish the fires that drive each play. If Macbeth were to wait for the king to die, or negotiate a transfer of power, the fated self-destruction would become boring bureaucracy. If Roxane were to embrace Cyrano as well as his poems, he would no longer have the inspiration of pursuit.
What do we take from each of these plays, other than an enjoyment of the language or emotional thrill? Both could be cautionary tails, specifically about forcing fate or believing too intensely. Both could stimulate thought about acting differently from the characters on stage. Both could provide reflection on what we see in our personalities that might promote flawed thought and action. Of course, too much analysis might distance us from enjoying the shows. Maybe Macbeth is a good reason for a couple of hours of violence. Maybe Cyrano de Bergerac is a series of beautifully penned penis jokes.