“Cyrano de Bergerac” is a classic French play written by Edmond Rostand in 1897. Set in 1640, this famous play follows the adventures of the title character, a larger-than-life hero possessing many talents, as well as an exceptionally large nose.
For an enjoyable day trip, an English language version can now be enjoyed in an atmospheric setting at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre in South Chesterfield, Virginia.
Located some twenty miles from Richmond, the theatre is a former grist mill dating back to 1663, roughly the same historical time as Cyrano.
Yet this enjoyable play, which contains elements of both comedy and tragedy, is set not in colonial Virginia, but rather in France, a nation then in turmoil due to conflict with Spain, as well as a conflict within French society over the role of the aristocracy and the Church in relation to individual quests for political freedom and self-expression.
Before the audience enters the world of the play, it is prepared by the Swift Creek Mill staff with a bit of French ambiance. The French-themed dinner menu, available for evening performances and Wednesday and Saturday matinees, includes an appetizer of French onion soup, a choice of entrée of beef bourguignon or Alsatian sausage with red cabbage, and a side of pommes duchesse.
Someone with a wicked sense of humor has also transmogrified the dessert menu into a “sweet surrender” menu with crepes Suzette! Specialty drinks include the Love Potion No. 9 and the French Kiss. This reviewer attended on a Sunday matinee (Feb. 17), which features an American southern-style brunch menu, though if we reach our French palette is served a bit with sumptuous shrimp gumbo over grits is suggestive of (New) Orleans and delicious Belgian waffles somewhat of French-speaking Walloon culture.
“French Café Music” is present; perhaps reminiscent of American jazz, though we did hear the strains of “C’est si bon” playing as well.
Going to the upper floor to the theatre, one encounters a delightful stage set including both Baroque and neo-classical architectural elements, with white pillars and French balustrades.
The story of Cyrano plays out within this simple yet elegant set, brightened by color spotlighting and images of the red skies of war as well as romantic starry nights. Scenic designer Frank Foster and lighting designer Joe Doran must be singled out for special praise in their roles in bringing this excellent production to life.
Loosely based on a real-life personage, the Cyrano de Bergerac of the play is a poet and lover; he is also courageous, charming, and witty. However, his legendarily large nose makes him feel ugly and thus unable to approach the girl of his dreams, the lovely Roxanne. Roxanne is in turn smitten with a certain Baron Christian de Neuvillete, and he with her. Cyrano and Christian, the latter not suspecting Cyrano’s feelings, embark on a journey to win Roxanne for the handsome but tongue-tied Christian, with Cyrano writing beautiful love letters in Christian’s name. Then – mon deiu! – a mélange of comedy and tragedy ensue.
Matt Bloch portrays Cyrano De Bergerac with enormous charisma, esprit and of course panache – the latter word having entered the English language via the Rostand play! His powerful voice is commanding and yet vulnerable – worthy of a man confident in his many talents and independent streak yet also painfully aware of his grotesque physical appearance.
David Janosik plays Christian excellently, emphasizing the difficult dual nature of his character (a witty though cruel verbal duel when he first meets Cyrano and his utter awkwardness when it comes to women). Though initially a superficial character by all appearances, Christian eventually reveals a profound insight that his love for Roxanne (a winsome Rachel Rose Gilmour) is shallow in comparison with Cyrano’s love for her. Actor Janosik handles this scene with aplomb. Indeed, one of the great strengths of this production, adapted by Emily Frankel and directed by John Moon, is the chemistry between the actors playing Cyrano and Christian.
Other actors who turn in excellent performances in their parts include Walter C.A. Riddle as Captain Lebret, Adam Mincks as Brisailles, and Debra Wagoner as Duenna and the Mother Superior. The music is recorded, tapping deeply into the Baroque era, and the sound and clarity of pronunciation of the actors are excellent.
For those ready to embark on a day excursion outside of our immediate region, this reviewer enthusiastically recommends a road trip to enjoy “Cyrano de Bergerac” at the Swift Creek Mill Theatre.
Visitors will encounter excellent dining, wonderful ambiance, and a memorable show. “Cyrano de Bergerac” runs through March 2 at 17401 Jefferson Davis Highway, South Chesterfield, Virginia. For times, ticket information, and other details (including a fascinating history of the mill), please visit the website at: https://www.swiftcreekmill.com/.