The Alley's Cyrano is an over-the-top period piece

Though it's called a heroic comedy by the Alley Theatre, in truth, Brian Hooker's adaptation of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac is most of all a melodrama, with all the gooey indulgences the genre implies. Secret love letters, gauzy ringleted women, war-loving men, clanking sword fights, swooning deaths — all this and more abound in the sinfully baroque production marking the opening of the Alley's season.

The story of poet-warrior Cyrano has been told and retold. The man with the comically long nose falls in love with the beautiful Roxane (Elizabeth Heflin). She in turn swoons for a golden-haired soldier named Christian (Justin Doran). When Cyrano (Jeffrey Bean) decides there's no hope for himself, he channels his adoration through the doltish Christian, feeding him lines to say on a dark night and writing the pretty boy's love letters. Roxane, who loves words and intelligence most of all, grows to adore Christian more for his pointed intellect and beautiful poetry than for his good looks. In fact, she eventually declares she would love him even if he were ugly. Poor Cyrano — if only he'd realized the woman he lives for had a soul capable of loving a big-nosed poet.

The story isn't new, but the Alley's production, directed with great gaudy colors and swashbuckling theatricality by Gregory Boyd, is still fun to watch, especially before we settle in after the second intermission (yes, there are two intermissions, so prepare for a long ride). A good part of the fun of this show lies in the visual extravagance of it. Alejo Vietti's Louis XIV period costumes are stunning. Heflin gets to sweep about in dresses covered with silky ruffles, ribbons and bows, puffy, flouncy sleeves, capes and wide feather hats. Even more fun are the dandified men in their white-faced makeup, red lipstick and lacy collars. They too are beribboned and bowed (more so than the women in some scenes).

Of course, the fighting men who are members of Cyrano's order wear dark, wooly things. Decoration is limited to gold buttons and dirty white cuffs; if they have bows, they are simple black strings. They are thus the true men, and Cyrano is the greatest of them all. He's able to fight off a hundred men with his gleaming sword, and he's a great storyteller, the sort of fellow every party needs. His only weakness is his big schnozzle — it pains him so much, he's willing to kill any man who insults it. Cyrano, who loves beauty in all things, is ashamed of his own ugliness, but ironically, it's his shame and vanity that are his undoing, not his nose.

The story is shaped around three periods in Cyrano's life. The first is when he admits his love for Roxane to his friend Le Bret (played by a swashbuckling James Black). Le Bret convinces Cyrano to talk to Roxane, but before he's able to tell her how he feels, she tells him that she has a crush on Christian, a new recruit in Cyrano's order. Instead of promising to love her forever, Cyrano ends up promising to look after Christian. Soon enough, Christian is wooing Roxane with Cyrano's pretty words.

The next period finds Cyrano and Christian at war. Cyrano has faithfully written Roxane every day under the name of Christian. Even the pretty boy doesn't realize to what lengths his big-nosed friend has gone to communicate with his love. Then Roxane shows up (only a melodrama would send a woman through a war-torn countryside to be with her man), and Christian realizes what Cyrano has done and that Cyrano has secretly loved Roxane all along. It all ends with a bloody battle when the enemy storms the fort.

Fast-forward 15 years. There's a convent, a still-virginal Roxane and Cyrano, still unable to reveal his love. By now the whole thing just seems ridiculous, and the ending, full of confession and swooning, over-the-top. What starts out as a lot of fun turns maudlin and impossible to make real, no matter how hard the talented Bean tries (and he does give it his best shot) as the dotteringly sentimental Cyrano.

Still, the first two periods are such fun, and even in the end, the nuns who adore Cyrano are charming. Those who love period pieces, over-the-top ribaldry and yards and yards of silk will enjoy this version of Cyrano's very old story.

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Lee Williams