‘Cyrano’ gets modern spin at Two River Theater in Red Bank

Cyrano review Red Bank

PHOTOS BY T. CHARLES ERICKSON

Britney Simpson with Luis Quintero, center, and Jason O’Connell in “Cyrano” at the Two River Theater in Red Bank.

“Cyrano de Bergerac” is streamlined and modernized in “Cyrano,” a new version of the classic 1897 Edmond Rostand play currently being presented at the Two River Theater in Red Bank. Roxane gets her own theme song — Beyoncé’s “Crazy in Love” is sometimes played when she takes the stage — and Cyrano himself sometimes seems like a smirky, flippant schoolboy.

From left, Jason O’Connell, Luis Quintero and Chris Thorn in “Cyrano.”

The play even pokes fun at its own Old World roots (Rostand’s play was inspired by an 17th century French writer).

“Art though comfortable?” one character asks another.

“I art … am!” is the response.

With five hard-working actors playing 16 characters, this is a fun, fast-moving production, though there is also a tragic element to “Cyrano de Bergerac,” and I felt like this version of it didn’t have much of an emotional impact. It’s certainly worth seeing, but does not really compare to the real thing.

Jason O’Connell and Brenda Withers co-wrote this adaptation, which premiered last year in Fort Worth, Texas, and was presented this summer at the Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival in Garrison, N.Y., with direction by Meredith McDonough. (The Two River show is a HVSF co-production, and McDonough is once again the director.)

O’Connell plays Cyrano, a smart, accomplished nobleman and soldier who yearns for the love of Roxane (Britney Simpson). He’s afraid to make a move, though, because he’s self-conscious about his large nose, and because Roxane is clearly in love with the handsome but not-too-swift Christian (Luis Quintero). And so Cyrano stays in what we would now call The Friend Zone.

Nance Williamson, left, and Britney Simpson in “Cyrano.”

In one of the play’s most famous scenes, Cyrano preemptively makes fun of himself, spitting out a rapid-fire series of nose jokes. It’s as uproarious as ever, here.

Roxane clearly adores Cyrano, but does not consider him as a potential mate. And so Cyrano helps Christian woo Roxane, whispering words to him under the cover of darkness, and ghostwriting his love letters.

It’s kind of pathetic, but in this way, as O’Connell makes clear, Cyrano can at least be in some kind of relationship with Roxane. She’s reacting to his words, after all, and he gets a kind of satisfaction from this. He almost seems giddily happy about it.

One of O’Donnell’s and Withers’ most daring moves is to add a framing device, setting the action in the present before moving to the past.

Honestly, I don’t think this adds anything to the play besides a bit of surprise, since you’re not sure, at first, what is going on.

But that’s par for the course for this “Cyrano,” which offers many changes from the original, but few that can be considered significant improvements.

The Two River Theater in Red Bank will present “Cyrano” through Oct. 13; visit tworivertheater.org.

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