Friday, May 18, 2012

written by Stephen Sachs
inspired by Cyrano de Bergerac by Edmond Rostand
directed by Simon Levy
presented by The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre

review by Phillip Kelly

Cyrano is a poet, plain and simple. Sure, he can fight, but first and foremost he is a ball of bridled passion that can string a series of words together to make any woman swoon, only he's made too insecure by his long nose to truly believe that any woman can fall in love with him.  But wait...writer Stephen Sachs has taken away the nose? I watch the stage skeptically. Even Steve Martin kept the nose in, I think to myself. That skepticism doesn't last long. Within minutes Troy Kotsur, the deaf actor that plays Cyrano, doesn't just win you over, but slaps you across the face with how talented he is, and despite some occasional flaws within the play, his performance envelops you and you're suddenly thrust along for the ride. 

In this version, no, it's not the nose that keeps him from his love, Roxy, but the hands. It is Cyrano's inability, as an ASL speaking person, to communicate clearly with a speaking person that he loves. He's a poet that uses his hands to speak and the woman he loves has no way of understanding. It's a simple, yet incredibly clever take on the Cyrano story.

I'm going to gush for a moment. This was freakin' awesome. Kotsur with the help of a couple ASL Masters, Tyrone Giordano and Shoshanah Stern and Levy, don't just use ASL to give a literal translation to Sach's well written words - they can't! It's two different languages. You see this occur between every spoken language. A metaphor written in words, has to be shown by the hands in a different way to get across the point. A whole sentence we hear spoken, could very easily be one single hand gesture. And let me tell you, those hand gestures, are a thing of beauty. Kotsur doesn't just sign, he uses his hands to perform, to dance, he integrates his emotionally expressive face, so even if someone wasn't translating, you get it! He pours his heart and soul into every gesture and every glance. It's a dance that takes place between gestures and emotions, and like some of the greatest silent actors, you don't need words to connect with what Kotsur is doing. It's really quite magical.

Another significant change, is the clumsy, oaf of a lover that first wins Roxy's affection and for whom Cyrano speaks, is now Cyrano's brother Chris, an aging, never quite famous heavy metal singer. Paul Raci embraces this incredibly flawed, but well intentioned and loving older brother - who in the end feels more betrayed by Cyrano than this character has in past versions. It's an interesting thing to see. You suddenly start to think that Cyrano is not a great guy. The cool thing is, Sachs, Levy and Kuster chose this. Cyrano is kind of a prick. He looks down on the local community of ASL speakers. He looks down on pretty much everyone. His inner demons attack those around him like a fencing sword with a very sharp point.

Kudos must be given to Victor Warren for helping bring Cyrano to life. When Kotsur is signing, Warren is the actor standing on the side of the stage giving Cyrano a voice for everyone who doesn't understand sign language. Warren, as an actor, has left his ego at the door and finds perfect synchronicity with Kotsur's performance. There's so much at work here, so many facets to what you're seeing, and Levy's direction has made it seamless.

Erinn Anova does a fine job portraying Roxy, the brothers' love interest. Though, for me, this is where Sachs lets the audience down. Roxy remains merely a love interest and never is allowed to fully blossom as a character unto herself. Who is she, other than an object of the brothers' love? We need to know who she is, with a little more dimension, with a little more understanding as to why Cyrano and Chris fall in love with her and stay in love with her. When Cyrano speaks of his love for her, it's not enough to simply know that she's beautiful and his poetry speaks to her soul.

The production cleverly uses video and sound design to set the scenes and mood and allows us to see text messages sent between actors. The set is hip and cool, befitting not only the modern poet, but also the fractured soul of Cyrano. There's was an even greater appreciation on my part when a small part of this set slid naturally out from the wall and magically became a bench. The costumes and lighting designers go for natural, and it works.

One of my favorite moments occurred when another deaf poet, Ipek Mehlum, was left on stage without a voice interpreter to deliver poetry and we were allowed to watch and appreciate. I would have liked a moment like this with Cyrano in trying to communicate with Roxy. Allowing the audience to feel his frustration, but that's neither here nor there. This show is worth the price of admission.

Cyrano presented by The Fountain Theatre and Deaf West Theatre
The Fountain Theatre, 5060 Fountain Ave, Los Angeles, CA 90029 (Fountain and Normandie)
Tickets and info: 323-663-1525 or

There is a cafe upstairs that opens about an hour before the show starts.
But there's also a cool little cafe down the street called LA Rose Cafe, about a block before Vermont.

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