By John Quinn, EncoreMichigan
The French, they say, have a word for it. To sum up dash, flamboyance, swagger and verve, that word is “panache.” It leaped into English largely due to Edmond Rostand’s wildly successful 1897 play “Cyrano de Bergerac,” in which the title character not only embodies the traits, but makes “panache” his dying word.
Many artists have drawn inspiration from the 17th century poet, playwright and duelist with the big name, Hercule-Savinien de Cyrano de Bergerac, who, if tradition is right, had a big nose to match. Rostand created a romance of unrequited, unexpressed love Cyrano held for his cousin Roxane. But “Cyrano” runs about four hours in rhymed couplets, and is rarely translated or produced in that form.
Enter actor Frank Langella, who abridged the “heroic comedy,” removing extraneous characters and subplots, and played the title role in 1997. This script is given a stark yet lyrical treatment by an energetic cast at Wayne State’s Hilberry Theatre, with a show that continues through March 20.
Cyrano, best friend and greatest soldier, considers himself unworthy of love because of his prominent feature. His life-long secret love, Roxane, confides she has fallen in love at first sight with a young recruit in Cyrano’s company, Christian de Neuvillette, remarkably handsome but a tongue-tied dolt. Rather than woo her for himself, Cyrano wins her for Christian, writing the poetry of which de Neuvillette is incapable. When Christian is killed on the battlefield, Cyrano continues the deception.
Under Blair Anderson’s taut direction, this “Cyrano” avoids extravagance. Even pared down, this script delivers a wealth of beautiful imagery. In the title role, Dave Toomey ably explores the subtext in his tortured character, playing both the humor and pathos with equal grace.
Sara Hymes is a reserved, intelligent Roxane and provides a fine foil for the more out-going Christian, played by Topher Payne. Both Rostand and Langella are romantics, though, and the best dialogues are scenes between Toomey and Hymes.
One quibble – and that’s a point of translation. As Cyrano dies in Roxane’s arms (no spoiler there, I hope), he avows he will doff his hat before God and, “I will stand again and proudly show Him that one pure possession … Mon panache!” It’s often literally translated as “My white plume” – the feather on his hat. Langella renders it, “My shiny soul.” Considering all the power in that word, can anything replace “panache?”
For tickets and showtimes, visit EncoreMichigan.
John Quinn reviews local theater productions for www.EncoreMichigan.com, the state’s most comprehensive resource for news and information about Michigan’s professional theaters. Follow them on Facebook @EncoreMichigan.com.