To say that Deaf West Theatre has a solid reputation would be a drastic understatement. For years their efforts in presenting works that appeal to both the hearing and the hearing impaired have garnered rave reviews and delighted audiences. Their adaptation of
Cyrano now on stage at and jointly produced by the enduring and endearing Fountain Theatre, is a concept that is tailor made for the group and it fits like a glove.
The story of Cyrano de Bergerac was written in play form by Edmond Rostand in 1897 and has been adapted and reworked for the stage, screen, and even radio, becoming very much a part of our society. References to the man who needs someone else’s words to woo his love are so commonplace that they have become standard devices in storytelling. Such devices have never been so touching and honest as they are when applied to the very real life situation of the deaf. Originally crafted to tell the tale of a man whose looks are a stumbling block in love, playwright Stephen Sachs brilliantly applies the same principle to a man who cannot hear.
This production’s modern Cyrano (Troy Kotsur) lives in Los Angeles and, although unable to hear, thrives as a counter-culture poet who makes it his mission to berate the poetical offerings of both his hearing and deaf contemporaries. Somewhat of a celebrity in the underground poetry world, Cyrano openly rebukes both lesser poets and modern technology, preferring instead to revel in his own self-absorbed and egotistical world. His only companions on his lonely plane of existence are his burned out rocker of a brother, Chris (Paul Raci), and the woman that they both love, Roxy (Erinn Anova). The three form a love triangle that leaves each one of them out in the romantic cold until the final moments of the show. Cyrano becomes Chris’ voice by composing texts and emails to Roxy for his brother while all the time loving her deeply himself. Chris flounders as he tries to keep up the ruse, but ultimately wins Roxy through his brother’s words. The hearing Chris, who has translated for his deaf brother all of their lives puts sound to Cyrano’s soul, and in doing so, loses his own. The hearing Roxy finds her love for Chris growing with each written word but fails to see the love that Cyrano also feels for her. Ultimately, it is Chris’ inability to find himself that nearly tears Cyrano and Roxy apart before binding them together forever. It is a heart-wrenching adaptation in which the key concept is infinitely more meaningful and true than the original tale, and the lead performances bring it out to perfection.
In the trio of Kotsur, Raci, and Anova, sharp-eyed director Simon Levy and playwright Sachs have found a connected and talented core group of actors. The emotion and comedy they convey reaches the audience and touches them for its candor and frankness. Kotsur is as powerful as he is vulnerable and Anova is as absorbing as she is open. As the most pleasant surprise in the cast, in a role that could easily be rendered ineffective by a lesser actor, Raci soars with humor and feeling. His ability to sign, communicate, and entertain bridges the gaps in a mountainous range of emotional highs and lows demanded by the challenging character. Bob Hiltermann is a standout as well in the brief but crucial role of Bill, Cyrano’s grounded confidant.
The second act of Cyrano is as strong as any version written and the high concept show makes tremendous use of the remarkable technical talents that Deaf West and the Fountain Theatre have at their disposal. The set, lights, and video design are so enthralling that they could almost be a show all on their own. The writing in the first act is, at times, bogged down and lacks genuineness, as do some of the performances in supporting roles. Likewise, the stylized fights are distractingly bad and ill fit the space. Still, Sachs’ conceptual genius and that of Levy and his remarkable design team, combined with the raw emotion delivered by the lead actors and many of the ensemble, make this show a must see. Cyrano is a treat for both the eyes and ears. Hearing or deaf, the impact of this story has never been never been louder or more touching.
This FOUNTIAN THEATER/DEAF WEST production of Cyrano runs until June 10that the Fountain Theatre in Los Angeles. (323) 663-1525 www.fountaintheatre.com/boxoffice