Synetic Theater’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” is a gloriously silly, but tragic, romp based loosely on Edmond Rostand’s play of the same name which follows the life of Cyrano de Bergerac, the soldier and poet with a large nose of which he is ashamed. Cyrano falls in love with his childhood friend, Roxanne, only to use his wit to help one man win her love while defending her from another. This adaptation takes several innovative liberties. Rostand’s original narrative has been stripped down to its essential characters, Cyrano (Vato Tsikurishvili), Roxanne (Maryam Najafzada), Christian (Zana Gankhuyag), De Guiche (Philip Fletcher), and The Priest (Adrienne Elion). Their essential personas are transformed into clowns—Cyrano is a baggy yellow onesie and oversized shoes; Roxanne a ballerina clown, and the nobleman De Guiche in a cavalier hat with more medals than Gowron. They all exist in a narrative, temporal circus conducted by the black-and-white and bloody harlequin clown of Time (Ana Tsikurishvili).
…a well-conceived, well-executed, and refreshing production of a classic which goes in completely unexpected directions.
There were also some adaptations to the narrative. While Rostand’s play drops you right into the action at the beginning and takes care of all the backstory through dialogue, Synetic uses temporal bookends of the childhood and old age of its characters. It’s arguably a more effective structure that gives the chronological emotional development of the characters more impact. The performance begins with a hide-and-seek ballet between Cyrano and Roxanne as children. She gives him a flower that he tucks away in his onesie before Time appears and delivers us, and Cyrano, to the present.
Then the play picks up with Rostand’s story which begins in a theater during the performance of a play where Cyrano is in the audience and proceeds to pick a fight with an actor on stage. This leads to Cyrano fighting a duel with another member of the audience whom he dispatches in spectacular fashion. In Synetic Theater’s interpretation, Roxanne has become a Pavlova-esque dancer and Cyrano has come to this theater to see her dance the dying swan. Only someone in the audience is sitting in his seat. What followed was a 10 minutes of farcical, slapstick uproar as Cyrano was pursued around the house by the stage manager and the ushers, climbing over seats, and hiding behind audience members. He was sitting in my lap when the stage manager finally caught him and (quite forcefully) escorted him to a vacant seat at the side of the theater. I usually love a good theater sword fight, but in this case, I really didn’t miss it. Changing the stakes in the first act and putting Cyrano in the house with the rest of us made him, and the whole ensemble of clowns, more human rather than superhuman— clown avatars living out drama from the circus of the real world. The focus shifted from Cyrano’s bravado skill in rhetorical and physical combat to his inner emotional foibles. In this world, Cyrano is not the best fighter, he’s just the clown with the biggest heart. This made the mortal stakes brought by the second act land that much harder.
Some of the best comedic moments and choreography in the first act came with Cyrano teaching Christian to woo Roxanne. Cyrano and Christian both serve in the same military unit under De Guiche, and Cyrano knows that both Roxanne and Christian have fallen in love with each other. When Christian comes to him asking for advice, he agrees to help. Christian is hilariously played by Gankhuyag as a hunky, h***y himbo of a clown, flexing for, and flirting with, the audience only to be reminded by Cyrano that he is in love with Roxanne. Cyrano agrees to write Christian’s love letters to Roxanne and that works until she wants to meet him in person. Cyrano hides and tries to indicate what Christian should do, but he gets carried away beating his chest and flinging himself on the floor while Cyrano and Roxanne resolve to the same pose—sympatico even from a distance.
Throughout both acts, the whole cast also made impressive and very physical use of the set. With a high platform at the center and a wide staircase winding down each side, the performers were constantly leaping off, climbing on, and falling from every surface of the architecture. It was a hard hitting performance in more than one sense.
For those of you who are unfamiliar with the story of Cyrano de Bergerac I won’t spoil the ending, but Synetic Theater’s production follows the same beats as the original. It’s a well-conceived, well- executed, and refreshing production of a classic which goes in completely unexpected directions. If you like excellent clowns, emotional drama, and good storytelling, this one’s for you.
Running Time: Approximately two hours with one 15-minute intermission
Cyrano De Bergerac runs through August 13, 2023 at Synetic Theater, 1800 S Bell St, Arlington, VA 22202. For more information and tickets, go online.