Here’s a big question for Sarah Sheldrick, the director of the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company’s weekend production of “Cyrano:”
Big fake nose for the leading character or not?
The answer – no, in this case – says something about Sheldrick’s intentions for this production.
You remember the essential outlines of “Cyrano de Bergerac,” the 1897 stage classic by Edmond Rostand that the Readers’ Theatre Company is performing in a 2011 translation and adaptation by Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner: Cyrano (who was based on a real person) is a nobleman serving in the French Army, a gifted duelist, poet and musical artist. But he has a large nose, which causes him to doubt himself – and which blocks him from expressing his love for beautiful and intellectual Roxane. Eventually, Cyrano allows Christian to woo Roxane – but Cyrano himself provides the words that allow Christian to win Roxane’s heart.
For Sheldrick, the nose issue cuts to the big, beating heart of the play: “To me, at the heart of this story is the story of self-love. When we don’t accept ourselves or know how to love ourselves, those become obstacles to us having true authentic connections in our relationships. I feel that’s Cyrano, Christian and Roxane – all three of them are struggling with their self-image in different ways.”
So often, she added, that destructive self-talk isn’t rooted in reality. (Note that the following quote contains a 125-year-old spoiler alert.) “We’ve all had conversations where people deprecate themselves and you try to tell them, ‘You are lovable.’ I mean, Cyrano dies in the arms of people who love him unconditionally, yet he still at the very end cannot still love himself. That’s the tragedy.”
And so, no prosthetic nose for Rachel Kohler, who portrays Cyrano as a man.
“I really just cast the best person for the part,” Sheldrick said. “Rachel brings a really unique energy and vivaciousness to what she does and Cyrano has a lot of vivaciousness in him as well. … We had to work on her physicality and changed the way she stood. We really approached the role to give her more masculine qualities.”
In assembling the rest of her cast, Sheldrick put an emphasis on finding actors who could cope with the lightning pace and frequent humor of the adaptation: “It moves at rocket pace.”
So she asked actors auditioning for the production to submit videos of themselves performing another piece that relies on speed and timing: The classic Abbott and Costello “Who’s on First?” routine. “I wanted to know who is willing to be playful and jump in like that at that speed.”
Sheldrick’s cast and crew got to perform the play on the Majestic’s stage without masks and social-distancing protocols. Four cameras shot the performance, and so she’s been absorbed over the last couple of weeks in post-production chores such as editing and ensuring high-quality sound. Making sure the sound is first-rate is critical, she said. “Whenever we had to do retakes, it was usually because of the sound. … It’s the one (technical area) I feel like audiences are the least willing to forgive. We’ll forgive a missed edit or lighting that’s a little off, but sound? No.”
But, she said, cast and crew missed the opportunity to perform for a live audience: “I really wanted it for them. They were ready. They were really ready for a live audience, with heartbeats and everything.”
Instead, Sheldrick has taken pains to emphasize theatricality in her production design.
“I really wanted to deconstruct the theater and the filming,” she said. “So you’ll see in the show that we took down the curtains to backstage, so you can see the prop tables, you can see people standing and waiting to come on. … I wanted that rehearsal feeling to it, even though we were ready for performance. But I wanted that feeling like you were sneaking into the theater to get a preview of the show.”
If You Watch
WHAT: “Cyrano,” a production of the Majestic Readers’ Theatre Company.
WHEN: Ticketholders can watch the online production anytime during the weekend of Saturday, July 24 and Sunday, July 25.
HOW MUCH: Tickets are $10, $15 and $20. Click here for more information and to purchase tickets.
CAST AND CREW: The director is Sarah Sheldrick, working from an adaptation of Edmond Rostrand’s play by Michael Hollinger and Aaron Posner. The cast includes Rachel Kohler, Martha Benson, Chad Howard, Michael Wren, John Carone, Tim Harris, Tresa Bowlin, Anne Hubble and Arlee Olson.