Stuff that Happens
Act I – a theatre in Paris, 1640
- Theatre-goers of all sorts await the start of a play.
- Christian has arrived from the country to join the Royal Guard.
- A drunken poet, Lignière, helps Christian discover the name of the woman with whom he has fallen in love from afar is Roxane.
- He also discovers that a nobleman, De Guiche (who is married), wants to make her his mistress by having her marry his friend, Valvert.
- Cyrano, who has “ordered” the lead actor Montfleury “to stay away” interrupts the performance.
- Valvert picks a fight with Cyrano; they duel while Cyrano composes a poem.
- Cyrano confesses his love for Roxane to his friend Le Bret.
- Roxane’s chaperone sets up a meeting between Cyrano and Roxane for the next day.
- Cyrano discovers that a hundred men plan to kill his friend Lignière because of a song he wrote.
Act II – the following morning at Ragueneau’s pastry shop
- Cyrano composes a love letter to give to Roxane “if [he] can see the faintest wisp of hope.”
- Roxane tells Cyrano that she is in love with Christian and wants Cyrano to befriend and protect Christian as a new member of the Royal Guard; Cyrano promises to do it.
- The Royal Guard arrives to celebrate Cyrano’s exploits with the one hundred assassins.
- De Guiche offers to help Cyrano court the favor of the powerful Cardinal Richilieu; Cyrano declines.
- Christian is tricked into mocking Cyrano’s nose; instead of demanding a duel, Cyrano asks to speak with Christian alone.
- Cyrano tells Christian of Roxane’s love for him and tells him that she expects a letter.
- Christian laments his lack of skill with words; Cyrano offers to give Christian the “words to woo her with.”
Act III – a few weeks later, outside Roxane’s house
- De Guiche plots to have Roxane spend the night with him before he leaves for war.
- Christian tires “of borrowing [Cyrano’s] lines” and believes he’s ready to woo Roxane without help from Cyrano; he fails, she goes inside.
- Christian allows Cyrano to feed him words to say to Roxane on her balcony while Cyrano hides in the shadows; when the words aren’t coming out fast enough, Cyrano begins speaking the words himself, poetically professing his love to Roxane, pretending to be Christian, hidden by the night. Because of Cyrano’s wooing, Roxane’s heart is won and Christian goes inside to collect a kiss.
- After being tricked into allowing Roxane and Christian to be married, De Guiche orders Christian and Cyrano’s regiment to the front line in the war with Spain.
act iv – the siege of arras
- The Royal Guard is starving as their encampment is sandwiched between enemy forces.
- Cyrano returns from mailing one of the many letters he has written to Roxane under the name of Christian.
- De Guiche announces that the battle plan now includes the Royal Guard laying down their lives.
- Roxane arrives in a carriage filled with food.
- Battles, losses, and one last letter ensue.
act v – fifteen years later in a convent garden
Notes from the Director
Why cyrano? big nose. big love.
As the American Shakespeare Center on Tour crisscrosses the country to come to your hometown (or if you’re reading this note during our Spring Season in our home, the Blackfriars Playhouse), you might be thinking: “Shakespeare didn’t write Cyrano de Bergerac…why is a Shakespeare company doing a play not written by Shakespeare?”
Shakespeare only wrote thirty-something plays that have survived (we can debate the exact number in another essay). Because the ASC produces over a dozen plays per year, we need to do plays by other playwrights or we’d run out of shows very quickly. Some of our criteria for choosing non-Shakespeare titles include:
- plays suitable for a lit audience becoming a part of the world of the play (audience contact, no 4th wall);
- plays that echo Shakespeare’s commitment to language;
- plays that echo Shakespeare’s Theatre of Imagination;
- plays suitable for use in all of Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions listed elsewhere in this program, especially lights on the audience, unplugged live music/effects, troupe of 15 or fewer actors;
- plays with high entertainment value: either gripping drama or funny comedy or the billion things in between;
- plays that help us create remarkable art using Shakespeare’s Staging Conditions.
Cyrano de Bergerac fits those criteria. It’s a play that’s been done by nearly every major classical theatre company in the world. And one of the joys of this company producing it is that the play’s first scene takes place in 1640 inside a Paris theatre which has a visible audience interacting with each other and the performers very much like our own Blackfriars Playhouse.
In 1897, French playwright Edmond Rostand wrote his play loosely based on the historical Cyrano, who was born a few years after Shakespeare’s death in the early 1600s. Bucking the more “naturalistic” trends of his time, Rostand wrote his romantic and heroic masterpiece in rhyming French alexandrine verse. Many English translations have been written over the last one hundred years: some in rhyming couplets, some in blank verse, and some in prose. The beauty of Rostand’s poetry soars in the translation by Anthony Burgess that we’re using for this production (first performed by Sir Derek Jacobi and the Royal Shakespeare Company in the mid-1980s). Burgess mixes blank verse, prose, and rhyming verse and says in his edition: “My final decision was to use some rhyme, but to avoid couplets except for Cyrano’s big scenes, which have an insolence or lyrical self-confidence to which the relentless unvarying clang of couplets seemed appropriate.”
As Burgess himself has pointed out, critics of the play might complain about its “bald contrivances, the psychological implausibilities, and the gross sentimentality of the ending.” But those critics probably don’t like Romeo and Juliet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream either.
I’m re-writing these notes after we’ve been rehearsing our production for about a week. The biggest surprise for me has been how moved I’ve been by this “sentimental” love story and how timeless the relationships are. If we haven’t actually been the “ugly duckling” with a secret love or the “attractive couple” who “ought to be” perfect for one another, then we’ve probably been one of their friends or known people in those situations. It’s a big play with a big heart that takes no prisoners as it embodies and dissects big love.
Centuries after Shakespeare and the real Cyrano lived, over a hundred years since Rostand first penned his play, our twenty-first century planet needs love this big. Right here. Right now. One of the many diseases we have when we’re young is that we think we’re going to live forever and that we’ve got all the time in the world to do/say/be the things we really want and need. The reality is that we’re not going to live forever and we don’t have all the time in the world. Your life is now. Make it big, make it count.