Review: A refreshing take on ‘Cyrano’ at Fountain Theatre
by Philip Brandes
Texting and email may have replaced quill and ink in “Cyrano” — Stephen Sachs’ contemporary re-envisioning of Edmond Rostand‘s classic drama — but the problematic nature of communication remains a constant. If anything, the theme gains new dimension and impact through the collision of hearing, deaf and online cultures in this inspired and inspiring adaptation’s debut co-production from the Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre companies.
Performed simultaneously in spoken dialogue and American Sign Language by a mixed ensemble of hearing and deaf actors, Sachs’ moving adaptation transposes Rostand’s archetypal heroic outsider into a gifted coffeehouse poet whose inferiority complex is rooted in his deafness rather than his perfectly normal nose. Troy Kotsur excels as this modern Cyrano, who fears that talking with his hands poses an unbridgeable gulf between himself and Roxy (Erinn Anova) the hearing-only poetry fan he worships from afar. Learning that his beloved is in turn infatuated with his rock musician brother, Chris (Paul Raci), who has always been his “voice” in the hearing world, Cyrano returns the favor by composing romantic texts and emails to Roxy on Chris’ behalf (smartly rendered in videography by Jeffrey Elias Teeter).
Sachs’ adaptation skillfully maps Rostand’s principals to their updated versions. Torn between pride and loneliness, Kotsur’s Cyrano resists identifying with either the hearing or deaf communities — or the modern world, for that matter — and evokes the heartbreaking weight of the realization that self-sacrificing vicarious passion is not all it’s cracked up to be. Raci is by turns hilarious and poignant as clueless loser Chris, and Anova invests Roxy with the sensitivity and sense of isolation she unknowingly shares with Cyrano.
The few arguable limitations here lie in adhering a bit too faithfully to some creakier aspects of Rostand’s original (particularly the opening brawling sequence), but the performances quickly catch fire in Simon Levy’s well-paced and precisely focused staging. Besides offering a refreshing take on a classic, the signed/spoken presentation offers hearing folks the opportunity to appreciate sign language’s unique emotional expressiveness.