If you require another reason to see Chicago Shakespeare Theater's production of Edmond Rostand's 1897 romance "Cyrano de Bergerac" besides its grand scale, lovely writing and artful balance of humor and action, Harry Groener is it.
Winner of the 2011 Joseph Jefferson Award for his performance in CST's "The Madness of George III," Groener plays with easy grace and understated emotion the titular poet-soldier and unrequited lover whose outsize proboscis is surpassed only by his noble spirit.
"Cyrano de Bergerac"★ ★ ★ ½
Location: Chicago Shakespeare Theater, Navy Pier, 800 E. Grand Ave., Chicago, (312) 595-5600 or chicagoshakes.com
Showtimes: 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Thursday and Friday; 1 and 7:30 p.m. Wednesday; 3 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday through Nov. 10. Also 6:30 p.m. Nov. 3
Running time: About three hours 10 minutes, with intermission
Parking: Garage adjacent to theater; validation available at box office
Rating: For general audiences
Groener's command of the language (in a witty, vivid translation courtesy of Anthony Burgess) is evident. His timing is impeccable and he swashbuckles with the best of them. But Groener isn't especially effusive, which is not necessarily a bad thing, even if it is a bit counterintuitive.
For all the character's many passions -- including his beloved cousin Roxane (Julie Jesneck), in love with the newly arrived cadet Christian -- Groener's Cyrano comes across more contained, a state that befits a man who values words and chooses them carefully. Even during the balcony scene when Cyrano woos Roxane in place of Nick Dillenburg's attractive but inarticulate Christian, Groener seems to restrain himself. His voice and expression suggest a man surprised by the depth of his feelings, making for a quietly moving yet entirely credible scene.
I came to Navy Pier with tissues in my purse, prepared to shed a tear the way I have at other productions of this play, which I have long admired. I left dry-eyed, but not unsatisfied.
Credit rests partly with Penny Metropulos (who earned a directing Jeff Award for "The Madness of George III") who helms this grand, bustling revival, which unfolds on Kevin Depinet's sturdy, suitably rustic set, which the designer transforms into a lovely, moonlit courtyard perfect for, well, courting.
That said, there are a couple of missteps, beginning with the timing of the intermission, which occurs just as Christian prepares to woo Roxane. While I understand the necessity of giving the audience a break, this one interrupted the narrative at a rather crucial time. Other productions I've attended hold the intermission until after Cyrano, Christian and the rest of the cadets are sent off to fight the Spanish. It makes for a long first act, but a better narrative flow. Chicago Shakespeare newcomers Jesneck and Dillenburg are attractive but have not yet uncovered their characters' emotional core. Additionally, one doesn't get a sense of the passion Roxane and Christian presumably have for each other (their battlefield reunion is almost perfunctory). However, I expect that may improve over the course of the run.
Fortunately, a cadre of CST veterans appear in supporting roles. Among them is Sean Fortunato who plays the blustering Henri Le Bret, captain of the cadets and Cyrano's devoted friend. The ever-reliable Ross Lehman provides comic relief as Raggueaneau, the good-hearted pastry chef cuckolded by his wife and beloved by starving poets. Wendy Robie and William Dick also do a nice job in their cameo roles as Roxane's chaperon and a monk.
Ultimately, the success of any production of "Cyrano de Bergerac" rests primarily with its Cyrano, an iconic character who needs -- no, demands -- an accomplished and eloquent actor.
Chicago Shakespeare Theater has such an actor. And his name is Harry Groener.