Review: ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ at Synetic Theater

Edmond Rostand’s tale of a consummate wordsmith achieves profound new eloquence in Synetic Theater’s wordless production of Cyrano de Bergerac. As they have done in so many previous productions, from Macbeth and King Lear to Sleepy Hollow and Treasure Island, the Synetic troupe founded by Paata and Irina Tsikurishvili bores way beneath the surface of the story to locate its emotional center, then exploits that essence through a brilliant combination of movement, music, and design. The results are simply mesmerizing.

Vato Tsikurishvili as Cyrano in Synetic Theater's production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
Vato Tsikurishvili as Cyrano in Synetic Theater’s production of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’ Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Cyrano de Bergerac, a 17th-century bon vivant and astute social critic, is hopelessly in love with his childhood friend, the ballerina Roxane. A talented writer, Bergerac is nonetheless blocked from pursuing his beloved because of his acute self-consciousness over his enormous nose. When Roxane falls in love with the handsome but dull-witted soldier Christian, Cyrano finds solace in ghost-writing Christian’s love letters to the unsuspecting Roxane. Both Cyrano and Christian are challenged by a third would-be lover, the foppish military commander De Guiche. So loyal is Cyrano to Roxane that he stalls De Guiche’s pursuit of the ballerina, allowing her and Christian the time to marry. An enraged De Guiche marches both Cyrano and Christian off to war, and eventual ruin.

In the Tsikurishvili family, the apples clearly fall close to the tree. Son Vato Tsikurishvili marks his directorial debut with Cyrano, and took over the lead role when Justin J. Bell was unable to perform due to illness. As a director, Tsikurishvili sees the timeless Cyrano in the tradition of great comedians – Chaplin and Keaton, Peter Sellers and Robin Williams – each of whom masks a great sadness with clownish hilarity and panache. As the lead in this performance, Vato’s expressive face and physical movement convey both dazzling wit and the visceral pain of unrequited love.

Tsikurishvili introduces a new character into Rostand’s classic – Time itself. In his view, the story is in part about how time eludes both Cyrano and his beloved Roxane. Played by Vato’s sister Ana Tsikurishvili, Time at some moments mimics the rigid, rhythmic ticking of a clock marking the seconds and hours in the characters’ lives. At other times, she gently guides her fellow players with an ethereal movement seemingly set free from the laws of gravity.

Maryam Najafzada as Roxane calls upon her skills as a classically trained dancer to express the fragile grace and beauty that entrance her lovers. Matt R. Stover uses his extraordinary flexibility to fine effect as the handsome Christian, who loves Roxane but can’t summon the words to match his feelings. De Guiche, the pompous military commander who never gives up his hapless quest for Roxane, is played forcefully by Philip Fletcher, a founding company member who has appeared in over 50 new and remounted Synetic productions. Anne Flowers’ hilarious drunken priest, who hides a flask in a hollowed-out Bible, unites Christian and Roxane with loopy grace.

Superior staging and choreography, striking costume design, and inventive music – all hallmarks of Synetic Theater – reach new heights in this production. Scenic Designer Phil Charlwood finds the visual equivalent of Cyrano’s soaring words in a flock of paper doves that take flight as the poet writes them. The battle scenes unite Irina Tsikurishvili’s energetic choreography with the hellish effects of smoke, sound and Brian S. Allard’s arresting lighting design. Allard’s sensitive and dramatic lighting of Time during her many appearances contributes to the other-worldliness of this novel character.

Alison Samantha Johnson’s jewel-toned, clown-like costumes shimmer in the light. Cyrano, dressed in vivid yellow, sports enormous side pockets in which he stores his secret missives. In his breast pocket, close to his heart, sits his timeless declaration of love – a white flower attached to a turquoise note. De Guiche’s elaborate military robe opens like a peacock’s feathers to reveal medals galore. Christian’s white satin breeches and jacket attest to his simple purity.

The cast of Synetic Theater's production of Cyrano de Bergerac. Photo by Johnny Shryock.
The cast of Synetic Theater’s production of ‘Cyrano de Bergerac.’ Photo by Johnny Shryock.

Adapter Nathan Weinberger compacts Rostand’s long and sprawling story into a shorter format while maintaining its essential emotion and narrative flow. Resident Composer and Sound Designer Konstantine Lortkipanidze ties the production together with a haunting score that always informs, and never overwhelms the action on the stage.

The Synetic Theater once again fuses acrobatics, mime, design, and music to provide a rich and novel re-interpretation of a classic tale. Their unique brand of ensemble work brings out the best not only in those we see on stage, but in everyone responsible for this rewarding theatrical experience.

Running Time: One hour and 40 minutes, with no intermission.

Cyrano de Bergerac plays through March 10, 2019, at Synetic Theater, 1800 S. Bell Street, in Arlington, VA. For tickets, call the box office at (866) 811-4111, or go online.