In Cyrano de Bergerac, Synetic Theater brings us a spellbinding production, without words, from a masterpiece whose leitmotif is the allure of language. Synetic, founded by Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili, continues its tradition of offering us the very best in staging, design, music, and performance.
Edmond Rostand’s play, written in 1897, takes place in 17th-century Paris. The story is well-known: Cyrano (Vato Tsikurishvili), soldier, wit, critic, and poet extraordinaire, has fallen in love with the exquisite and sophisticated Roxanne (Maryam Najafzada), his childhood playmate. She, in turn, is in love with the handsome but inarticulate Christian (Zana Gankhuyag). Cyrano, for reasons best known to himself, agrees to write Christian’s love letters for him, to assist Christian in his quest to win Roxanne’s heart.
Rostand’s Cyrano is a curiously heroic misanthrope. He is intelligent, agile, quick to parry sword or insult with a well-timed riposte. But of course, life is not perfect and neither is his; he struggles with a sense of romantic inferiority, due to a pronounced proboscis, which in his own words “marches on before me by a quarter of an hour.”
Director Vato Tsikurishvili, who also plays Cyrano, has made an inspired choice: He sets the story in a world of clowns. His Cyrano is Chaplinesque, with the deep inner melancholy of all great clowns from time immemorial. Adaptor Nathan Weinberger has captured the essence of this insight.
We first see Cyrano and Roxanne as childhood playmates. She is a young ballerina, all in pink. He wears a yellow commedia dell’arte–style costume. They play hide-and-seek. He does somersaults. She offers him candy and snatches it away from him. He gazes at her with adoration and then pretends to ignore her. She gives him a flower and runs away.
The stage is dark red, with a high platform in the middle. The lights, dazzling in themselves, change color and position frequently, and bathe the performers in a vivid glow. (Lighting designer is Hailey Laroe.)
Time appears (Ana Tsikurishvili). All in black and white, complete with tutu, long hair tied in ponytails on either side of her head, she possesses a Cheshire-cat–like smile. We hear the ticking of a clock. A jarring alarm, which Cyrano is not happy about. As Director Tsikurishvili envisions her, Time guides the main characters through their lives to their destinies.
Later, Cyrano is an adult, and bald. He carries, inevitably, a flower, symbolizing his love, and a note, symbolizing the storied eloquence that he hopes will win Roxanne. He proudly dons a golden cape and a plumed hat and strikes a courtier’s pose.
Some of the funniest and most touching moments occur when Cyrano interacts with the audience. He asks one young man to stand up, takes his seat, and puts his arm around the girl next to him. He runs around wildly, sometimes playing tricks, sometimes laughing, sometimes fixing an audience member with a penetrating stare. When an usher begins to chase him around, he hides.
In another lovely scene, Roxanne appears, a vision of beauty, all in white. Her hair is in a bun, and she wears long white gloves. (Costume designer/stitcher is Maria Bissex; props are by Martin Bernier.)
Cyrano’s fellow solder and new recruit Christian (Zana Gankhuyag) arrives, also in white. He and Roxanne gaze at each other, transfixed by love. They dance. The choreography, by Irina Tsikurishvili, is breathtaking throughout, as is the music, by Resident Composer Koki Lortkipanidze.
The military commander, de Guiche (Philip Fletcher) struts in, replete with medals and self-importance. He too is in love with Roxanne, and he shows off his multicolored hat and elaborate costume. He forces her to dance with him. He offers her a flower. She pushes it away.
Cyrano watches furiously. His Loved One is being pursued by One Who is Unworthy.
De Guiche offers Roxane a ring. Cyrano has an inspiration (“I’ve got this!”). He grabs the ring and offers it first to Roxanne, and then to the audience. Boogie-woogie music begins to play, and de Guiche and Cyrano perform a kind of battle, half dance, half duel.
Time holds up her mirror to him, but Cyrano does not want to see his face.
He sits at the front of the stage, under one spotlight, surrounded by the dark. Spooky figures mock him (“Yah-yah-yah-yah!”).
Cyrano puts a scarf on Roxanne’s eyes. They dance together passionately. As the audience gasps, a brilliant coup de théâtre ends Act I.
War, comedy, and the vagaries of fate dominate Act II. In a comic scene, A Drunken Priest (Adrienne Elion) with a Bible is leaning on de Guiche. De Guiche kisses the Bible. Soldiers huddle around a fire, starving.
Later, Cyrano and Roxanne have aged. Cyrano still has enemies due to his hatred of hypocrisy and irrepressible need to express it. He is, as Molière would say, unfashionably sincere.
Now elderly, sitting on a bench, they play together again like children. He makes silly noises. He puts his hand beneath hers. She laughs.
In the end, time conquers all. And we are left to contemplate, first, the sadness of Cyrano, and then the mystery of Roxanne, and the three men who loved her.
Running Time: Approximately two hours, with one 15-minute intermission.
Cyrano de Bergerac plays through August 13, 2023, at Synetic Theater in the underground Crystal City Shops, 1800 South Bell Street, Arlington, VA. Tickets ($35–$65) are available online, at the theater box office (open an hour before showtime), by email at email@example.com, or by phone at (703) 824-8060.
Recommended for ages 6 and up
COVID Safety: Masks are optional but recommended for all patrons, staff, and ushers during shows and events. See Synetic Theater’s complete COVID-19 Safety Protocols here.
Cyrano de Bergerac
Cyrano — Vato Tsikurishvili
Roxanne — Maryam Najafzada
Christian — Zana Gankhuyag
de Guiche — Philip Fletcher
Time — Ana Tsikurishvili
Drunk Priest — Adrienne Elion
Director — Vato Tsikurishvili
Choreographer — Irina Tsikurishvili
Adaptor — Nathan Weinberger
Resident Composer — Koki Lortkipanidze
Technical Director — Phil Charlwood
Costume Designer/Stitcher — Maria Bissex
Lighting Designer — Hailey Laroe
Sound Engineer — Brandon Cook
Props Designer — Martin Bernier
Stage Manager — Joshua Stout
Assistant Stage Manager/Wardrobe — Kaitlyn Shifflett
Assistant Stage Manager (Stand-In: One Night Only) — Kristen Temple
Production Manager — Mark Carmouze
Master Electrician — Alex F. Keen
Light Board Operator — Susannah Cai