Will the real Cyrano please stand up! Orinda Starlight Theatre delivers a delightful comedy about a guy with a snoot that's a hoot!

The Orinda Starlight Village Players Company is currently in production with a delightful comic, romantic, adventuresome, swashbuckling, sword-fighting play written in the late 1800’s about an actual, bigger-than-life Frenchman, “Cyrano de Bergerac”. You may remember the 1950 film version for which Jose Ferrer received the Academy Award for Best Actor. Ferrer also starred in the 1946 Broadway version which was an enormous hit for the 1946 / 1947 theatrical seasons and won him a Tony Award. The play has been translated into many languages and plays continuously in many countries.

Playwright, Eugent Rostand, took some liberties in his play about this very charismatic Frenchman, whose real name was Hector Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac and who in fact was a highly respected author, poet, playwright and duelist born and living in France between 1619 and 1655. The play was based on factual characters, but the romantic elements were changed to make the story more appealing and palatable to audiences when it was written in 1897, as it was and is strongly suspected that Cyrano was a homosexual. This is based in large part on his lengthy relationship with writer and musician, Charles Coypeau d'Assoucy, for over 13 years.
Cyrano was in fact, a very accomplished playwright in his time, so much so that even his well known contemporary, Moliere, plagiarized some of Cyrano’s play concepts into his own plays.

“Cyrano de Bergerac” begins with Cyrano (played very well by Edwin Peabody) disrupting a theatrical performance in the Hotel Burgundy theatre because of his great displeasure with the actor playing the lead character in a play he had written entitled “Clorise”. As the patrons leave the hotel theatre, a heckler makes fun of Cyrano’s proboscis. Cyrano very cleverly matches verbal wit with the fellow while trying to dissuade him from fomenting a duel. The heckling continues and Cyrano finally, albeit reluctantly, engages him in a bit of sword play. During the sword fight, Cyrano composes a verse about his aggressor’s ultimate disposal, and true to his humor and lyric, he finally dispatches the aggressor with panache! In fact, it was Cyrano de Bergerac, the brilliant linguist, who introduced the word “Panache” into the French and English lexicon.

Cyrano in real life was a highly accomplished swordsman, a cadet (a Nobleman in the employ of the French Army), and a poet as well as a playwright. He also had a very large nose which had made him very insecure, so much so that he believed that his ugliness forbade him to "dream of being loved by even an ugly woman." Actual paintings of him do not indicate that his nose was as large as the legend portends, but it was large enough that he had great doubts that any woman could ever love him. At least this is the excuse that he used (in real life) to generally avoid the opposite sex.

In this play, Cyrano is madly in love with his distant cousin, Roxane, who is, at the same time, in love with another cadet in Cyrano’s company, by the name of Christian (played by Peter Johathan McArthur). When Roxane (played by the Laura Morgan) learns that Cyrano’s company is about to be sent off to Arras to do battle, she implores Cyrano to befriend Christian and to exercise his great skill as a swordsman and soldier to assist in the protection of this young man’s life, whom she loves.

Cyrano befriends Christian, and tells him that Roxane expects a letter from him indicating that he is favorably disposed to her. It is at this point that Christian confesses that he has no idea how to express his feelings in a letter or otherwise. Cyrano produces an eloquent love letter that he has already written to Roxane (but unsigned) expressing feelings for her. He gives this letter to Christian, suggesting that Christian give it to Roxane under the pretext that he wrote it himself. Cyrano then promises he will continue to assist Christian in his courtship of Roxane. In effect, Cyrano does this because it gives him an excuse to write love letters to Roxane. Later, Cyrano even stands in the shadows underneath Roxane’s courtyard veranda, quietly and secretly composing eloquent romantic verse which Christian parrots as if it were his own words, to the romantically impressed Roxane, standing at the window above them.

When Cyrano and Christian are away at war, Cyrano (in the play) writes love letters every day on behalf of Christian, which he secrets away from the battle grounds and has delivered by a messenger into the hands of the anxiously waiting Roxane. Thus begins this whole lover’s charade.

The cast also includes Ken Sollazzo as Cyrano’s good friend, Le Bret, John Burke as Rageuneau (the baker), Patricia Inabnet as Montfluery, Tom Westlake as the Viscount, Julia Scharlach as the refreshment girl, Mary Kidwell as Duenna, Jose Garcia as Captain Carbon, and Bill Chessman as de Guiche.

The model for the Roxane character of the Rostand play was in fact, Bergerac's cousin, who lived with his aunt, Catherine de Cyrano, at the Convent of the Daughter of the Cross, where Bergerac was tended for injuries sustained from a falling wooden beam. As in the play, Bergerac did fight at the siege of Arras (1640), and a battle of the Thirty Years' War between French and Spanish forces in France (although this was not the more famous “final” Battle of Arrass, fought fourteen years later, as described in the play). One of his confreres in the battle was the Baron of Neuvillettee, who eventually married Cyrano's cousin. However, the play's plotline involving Roxane and Christian is almost entirely fictional — the real Cyrano did not write the Baron's love letters for him.

Never the less, “Cyrano de Bergerac” is a delightfully entertaining romantic tale filled with misguided and unfulfilled lovers, clever verse, sword fights, battle cries and very funny moments. This production is very well directed by Suzan Lorraine and her selection of a competent cast has worked very well. You will find that for community theatre, which is the training arena for most neophyte actors, this is a very nicely done production. Lines are for the most part well learned, timing is fairly good and most of the elements that make a play successful, work very well here.

The costumes, designed by Susan England, are quite representative of the time and place (17th century France) and work quite well. The theatre is breaking in a new lighting control board and there were a few (quite humorous) lighting miscues that added to the evening’s enjoyment.

The Orinda Starlight Theatre is located in a park amphitheatre adjacent to the Orinda Community Center Park at 26 Orinda Way, adjacent to the library. Tickets are a very reasonable $15 but seniors and students pay only $7.50 each. Tickets may be ordered by mail (or at the box office at the amphitheatre just prior to show time) by calling 253-1191 or 255- 3295 after 7p.m., or by writing the theatre care off their Post Office Box 204, Orinda, CA 94563-0204. “Cyrano de Bergerac” plays Friday and Saturday evenings at 8 p.m., now through August 13th. There will be a Sunday performance on August 9th at 4 p.m., and a Thursday evening performance at 8 pm, on August 13th, the night “Cyrano de Bergerac” closes.

Be sure and dress very warmly, in layers, and bring a folding picnic chair, a blanket and/ or cushions as cushions that are provided are barely adequate and the rock seating in the amphitheatre can get very hard. This is a delightful show and at an even more delightful price!