Critics try not to have expectations about shows, but truth be told I was dreading the idea of having to sit through another telling of Edmond Rostand’s ancient play Cyrano de Bergerac. To my considerable surprise, however, the Arden Theatre Company’s adaptation turns Rostand’s relic into a swashbuckling tale of romance and adventure that is smart, funny and exhilarating theater.
Spryly adapted by director Aaron Posner and local playwright Michael Hollinger (who also translates the play from its native French into very contemporary and witty English), the story follows the exploits of soldier Cyrano (Eric Hissom in his finest performance on an Arden stage) as he fights and loves his way through the streets of Paris and the battlefield at Arras in mid-17th-century France. An accomplished swordsman and eloquent poet who is as skilled with a quill as he is with a blade (the sword fights are expertly choreographed by Dale Anthony Girard), Cyrano is a daring adventurer who would be the object of every woman’s affection if not for his huge nose. He’s also secretly in love with his distant cousin, Roxanne (Jessica Cummings), who has her heart set on the handsome Christian (the appropriately cute Luigi Sottile). A soldier under Cyrano’s command, Christian likewise adores Roxanne but can’t find the words to express his devotion. “I’m just not very good with the language thing,” Christian says, explaining his predicament to the sympathetic Cyrano, who then volunteers to help Christian win Roxanne’s heart.
Posner’s and Hollinger’s adaptation is enormously light on its feet. Superbly condensed, they have refreshed the story’s antiquated sections while emphasizing the play’s (and by extension the title character’s) considerable panache (Rostand is often credited with inventing the word panache).
The show’s stylishness extends to every aspect of the production, including Thom Weaver’s gilded lighting design—which bathes Daniel Conway’s scenic design in glorious hues of blue and gold. As is typical with Posner (who is perhaps an even better director than writer), each facet of the production compliments another element of the show’s design. Weaver’s lighting not only enhances Conway’s design (which resembles both a theater and a place of worship) but also Devon Painter’s ravishing costume design, which wonderfully evokes an era when men out-fashioned the women (Roxanne looks lovely but her gowns are no match for the men’s giant black boots that rise to the knee or the jackets that are topped off with feather-sprouting chapeaus that would make a peacock jealous).
A swiftly moving juggernaut of a play that is equal parts adventure and romance, Cyrano is the rare production that will satisfy any theatergoer regardless of age or gender and easily ranks as one of the season’s most welcome surprises.
Through April 15. $29-$45. F. Otto Haas Stage, Arden Theatre Company, 40 N. Second St. 215.922.1122. ardentheatre.org