What’s more, the namesake of Edmond Rostand’s epic romance seems as perversely proud of the huge untruth at the center of his life as he does of the massive feature at the center of his face. (Maybe he figures his nose can’t grow much bigger anyway.)
“Call it a lie if you wish,” Cyrano says when he first hits on his mad scheme to win the love of Roxane using his words and another man’s body. “But a lie is a sort of myth. And a myth is a sort of truth.”
Here’s a truth that’s not in any way a lie: It takes a committed and commanding actor to fill the shoes and flaunt the oversized nose of this outsized, indelible character. And in Patrick Page, Rostand’s sword-slinging poet has met his match.
Page fills all three-plus hours of director Darko Tresnjak’s lyrical and bewitching Old Globe Theatre production with such style and finesse that even when he’s offstage (which isn’t often), his character’s implicit presence is like an electrical charge.
Rostand called it panache – the word for the feathered plume in a 17th-century French soldier’s hat, to which this 1897 play helped give a new meaning of living with bravery and brio.
Page has it, and the Globe has a corker of a show to start off its Summer Shakespeare Festival, which continues on the outdoor Lowell Davies stage with two actual Shakespeare plays, “Coriolanus” and “Twelfth Night.” (The three run in nightly repertory.)
Cyrano is a one-man renaissance with a rapier wit and a rapier that won’t quit. He doesn’t put up with much: When he first storms onstage, it’s to confront an actor named Montfleury (a comically flustered Kern McFadden) whom he has unilaterally banned from the stage.
Seeing Montfleury’s life spared, a fatuous dandy named Valvert (Tony von Halle, richly insolent) tests Cyrano by making fun of his hulking nose. This does not go well. Cyrano shames Valvert by trotting out the many insults he could have used, then finishing him off with a sword fight set to a rhyming ballade whose end proves almost to be Valvert’s.
The scene sets the tone beautifully for Cyrano’s blend of fury and mercy, not to mention his magnetism: He makes a line like “Who will be the first to breathe his last?” sound like a party invitation.
But Page also grounds his Cyrano (whom Rostand patterned after the real 17th-century playwright) in a bedrock of dejection; he has lofty dreams, but admits that “what kills it all (is) my profile shadowed on the garden wall.”
His dream of dreams is to be with Roxane (Dana Green), his beautiful and tough-minded distant cousin. But Roxane loves his pretty-faced compatriot, Christian (Brendan Griffin, who has a suitably disarming charm). Out of a yearning more to make art of life than to make Roxane his wife, Cyrano concocts the plan to have the tongue-tied Christian mouth his words, in letters or in person.
It works a little too well; the burden of the lie winds up shattering the lives of all three, as Cyrano and Christian go off to meet their fates at war.
Even for what’s in many ways a romantic fantasy, it’s hard to believe Roxane doesn’t recognize Cyrano’s voice in a balcony scene where he takes over from the faltering Christian. But the impressive Green plays it cannily, with the barest suggestion that she knows a truth she won’t admit to herself about whose mind she’s really fallen for.
(Thanks to SeaWorld, by the way, for the distant boom of fireworks during this romantic reckoning. Bring the love.)
Besides a final scene that begins with some modestly clunky exposition (Rostand’s attempt to explain the time and place of this epilogue), Tresnjak’s production moves gracefully, with Anna R. Oliver’s sumptuous costumes and York Kennedy’s starry-night lighting bringing vibrant color to Ralph Funicello’s modest but versatile set.
The ensemble cast also gives rich texture to the play, with strong turns by Bruce Turk (the Comte de Guiche), Eric Hoffmann (Ragueneau), Grant Goodman (Le Bret) and Katie MacNichol (Lise and more), among others.
In his final scene, Cyrano finds himself admiring the fluttering autumn leaves for “making their fall appear like flight.” Page and the Globe’s show weave an illusion, too (call it a lie if you’d like): a fantasy that feels like the best kind of truth.