Cyrano at the House Theatre of Chicago | Theater review
Matt Hawkins’s distillation of Rostand’s romantic recalls the House’s best work.
Recalling the best of classic House shows like The Great and Terrible Wizard of Oz and Hatfield & McCoy, adapter-director Matt Hawkins distills Rostand’s Cyrano de Bergerac down to a playful, modern, unadorned essence. Hawkins and set designer Collette Pollard transform the Chopin Theatre’s main-stage space into an intimate, bi-level square with the audience on two sides; the only set piece is a grand piano, played by Shawn Pfautsch’s moody Cyrano. He’s deeply sensitive and quick to anger about attention to his oversized schnoz. He’s also deeply in love with the luminous and intelligent Roxane (Stacy Stoltz), and deeply convinced that, despite their great friendship, she could never love one as ugly as he.
The acknowledgment of the audience used to be one of the House’s best tricks; freed of the fourth wall, the characters can treat us as coconspirators. Hawkins reembraces that principle here, and it’s hard to imagine an actor better skilled at connecting with an audience than Pfautsch, who handles both sword fights and torch songs with a hefty helping of his character’s defining characteristic. “Panache,” Cyrano muses in the song that opens the show. “Why do I have this thing?”
Stoltz is characteristically radiant as Roxane, and Glenn Stanton impresses as Cyrano’s studly romantic stand-in, Christian. Their romantic triangle is treated with great humor and grace. Hawkins also douses the proceedings with dazzling large-group sword fights, but quiet moments thrill as well. Upon learning of Christian’s death, Roxane sadly and silently joins Cyrano at the piano for an extraordinarily beautiful grief-tinged duet.