The epic revival at The Old Globe looks traditional, yet delivers surprises, the first of which is that Edmond Rostand’s florid, 1897 romantic drama can still make ’em laugh, make ’em cry and — amidst the swashbuckling and rhapsodizing — can still convey so much human truth.
Tresnjak, resident artistic director of the Globe and its Summer Shakespeare Festival, enlisted a savvy co-pilot for this soaring revival, the veteran Shakespearean actor Patrick Page. Playwright Rostand created Cyrano larger than life. Swordsman, troubadour, trickster, revenger, idealist, Cyrano’s role is longer than Hamlet’s, longer even than the fabled nose that precedes the hero into a room. Page’s bold, yet subtle, sad and moving interpretation of Cyrano surpasses expectation. And expectations were high.
In his previous Globe performances — as Jeffrey Cordova in the musical “Dancing in the Dark” and Pogo Poole in “The Pleasure of his Company” — Page delivered two tours de force, showy star turns involving arch egomaniacs. In “Cyrano,” Page’s star shines in another order of magnitude. The earlier roles now seem mere warm-ups for taking on the iconic Cyrano — a character equal parts Don Quixote, musketeer D’Artagnan, deformed Richard III and lyrical Romeo.
Page meets the word-drunk character head on and makes him real. Triumphant even in romantic failure, his Cyrano defines panache. Aside from enviable physical energy, the actor possesses a speaking voice of great resonance, reach and subtlety. Its higher range is wider, more lyric tenor than baritone, but otherwise, Page’s voice has the warmth and malleability of Kevin Kline’s.
Director Tresnjak employs his special choreographic eye and operatic sensibility to keep the stage bustling with beautiful pictures, bawdy sight gags, bountiful bosoms, preening courtiers and mischievous low-lifes. But the sound of Page’s agile voice is the strongest thread weaving the elements together and casting over all an irresistible spell.
Page’s vocal virtuosity proves more than equal to the verbal fireworks in all the big set pieces. He ranges gracefully through the mocking ode to his own proboscis, the impromptu put-down of a poem created while dueling, a long fantasia on varieties of space travel, the ecstatic letter-writing to his unacknowledged love Roxane, and the halting revelations of the tragic finale, set 15 years after he first deceived the adored girl by putting his own words of ecstatic love into the mouth of her handsome, but tongue-tied suitor, Christian.
Oddly, it’s the quiet moments that stand out. Those, and the silences. Cyrano’s whispered doubts, bordering on self-loathing, play as clearly and effectively as the most high volume boasts and insults. In tender sweetness, rank bitterness, shrill sarcasm, spiteful anger, transporting love, high notes and low, Page’s sensitively deployed voice is one remarkable instrument.
The wonderfully supple and spicy off-rhyming translation of Anthony Burgess also offers a Festival ensemble of nearly two dozen actors their occasions for soaring speech, grand gestures, sustained rants, puns, jokes and romance.
Nearly as nimble as Page in her emotional range is beautiful Dana Green as Roxane. Radiant in pink silk and blonde curls, she nonetheless creates a shrewd and autonomous woman not content to be anyone’s passive sex object. Green and Page calibrate the emotions of the final scene so well, tears flow with little sentimentality and no embarrassment.
Green is just as good in the comic scenes — petulant when she almost catches on to Christian’s deception because “sometimes his muse expires into a sigh” and exuberant when she arrives on the battlefield cross-dressed as a soldier and bearing a cartful of pastries for the starving soldiers.
Much merriment comes from the baker of those baguettes, the cheerful cuckold Ragueneau, played with charming gusto by Eric Hoffman.
And the list of ensemble members well cast by Tresnjak and the Globe’s Samantha Barrie is a long one. At the top are Brendan Griffin, whose beautiful Christian seems a pampered boy, not so much stupid as innocent and inexperienced; reliably expert Bruce Turk, whose Comte de Guiche, nephew of Cardinal Richelieu, is a study in male entitlement and restrained rage; versatile Charles Janasz as the poet Ligniere and a bumbling Capuchin monk, and Tony von Halle as the flouncy, self-deluded Vicomte de Valvert.
In “Cyrano,” Tresnjak invents a time machine that challenges viewers to leave instant gratification, impatience and distractibility behind to enter an overstuffed, novelistic, Victorian-era universe, which in turn sets the action in 1640s France. Rostand opens “Cyrano” with a play within a play, a mock of the declamatory neoclassical drama so different from his own populist potboiler. He creates yards of exposition before moving from theater to bakery shop, house to battlefield to convent.
Audiences may find it takes a while to get oriented and settle in. Cyrano’s world feels a bit like that of the musical “Les Miserables,” for it was Victor Hugo who, following Shakespeare, shaped this kind of epic historical drama, mixing tragedy and comedy, satire and melodrama, fact and fiction.
Tresnjak and designers Ralph Funicello (set) and Anna Oliver (sumptuous costumes) nail the theatrical historicism, while injecting the rhythms and tone with contemporary energy. Cyrano and his troop of Gascony Cadets, to name just one example, become a gently self-mocking corps de ballet, deployed all over the Lowell Davis Festival Stage, proclaiming their military exploits in unison and with brio.
Tresnjak’s “Cyrano de Bergerac” rivals in its literary fidelity and theatrical mastery his fairy tale “Pericles” and gorgeous “The Winter’s Tale” of seasons past. The show makes one eager to see the Shakespeare productions that open at the Globe this week (“Twelfth Night” and “Coriolanus”).
And Page’s intelligent and engaging performance left me hoping to see him return soon as Shakespeare’s exuberantly evil antihero, Richard III.