CYRANO DE BERGERAC, who has been known to fend off 100 men single-handedly, has fallen victim to a far more dangerous foe -- a new adaptation at Baltimore's Mechanic Theater. That Edmond Rostand's swashbuckling poet/swordsman manages to survive such a rude revision and indifferent acting is a tribute to his heroic stature.
Here, Cyrano is played with some verve and vigor by John Cullum, who must carry most of the evening alone. The adapter, Emily Frankel, is also Cullum's wife, and she has compressed and thoroughly "Americanized" Rostand's play, taking it upon herself to "eliminate the images and historical references which have little meaning for us today."
In this case, that has meant the excision of almost everyone's flowery speeches but Cyrano's. It's fast and entertaining -- mostly because it's a great story -- as we watch Cyrano, fearing that his imposing nose makes him too ugly for the fair Roxane, use his poetic gifts to help the handsome but nonverbal soldier Christian woo the lady. But the result is a Classic Comics "Cyrano." (Cullum has said he prefers this skeletal version to Rostand's 1897 original "because it has been freed of the extraneous.")
Director Arthur Storch has given little attention to dynamics and less to diction, leaving most of his actors stranded, gaping blankly on the ramparts. Among his other talents, Cyrano is a particularly fierce theater critic -- when we first meet him, he is chasing a foppish actor off the stage -- and he must be mortified to share the stage with this sorry company.
Megan Gallagher is a picture-book pretty Roxane, and she has a few funny moments in the courtship scenes. But Gallagher is graceless and green when called on for more than a giggle or a coquettish glance. Handsome Marcus Smythe is typecast as her suitor Christian, stumbling as he does over his brief lines. As the lecherous Comte de Guiche, the whiny, weak Richard Cottrell should be tossed off stage. And many of the other minor characters -- given little more to say than "Look out, Cyrano!" -- utter even that little ineptly.
Sean G. Griffin is suitably solid as Cyrano's loyal friend Le Bret, and Shirl Bernheim has some good comic bits in the dual roles of the Duenna and Mother Margaret.
The stark, sweeping staircase set by Victor A. Becker, and Jennifer von Mayrhauser's costumes are handsome and dramatically effective. And the swordplay, choreographed by Erik Fredericksen, is handled nicely. Would that this adaptation were as attentive to Rostand's wordplay.
CYRANO DE BERGERAC -- At Baltimore's Morris A. Mechanic Theater through February 1.