Pia Haas, Contributing Critic - New York
The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival returns for its much anticipated 33rd summer season. The four plays, in the 2019 repertoire, are staged in the open-air tent on the majestic grounds of the Federal-era Boscobel estate overlooking the Hudson River.
Jason O'Connell, a long-time company member, along with co-writer, Brenda Withers, has adapted the Edmund Rostand 1897 classic play, Cyrano De Bergerac. This CYRANO is a mischievously clever concoction brimming with romance, comedy, tragedy and ticklish farce all at once.
Cyrano, a consummate wordsmith, with the “soul of a poet and the nose of an anteater,” is hopelessly in love with his childhood friend, Roxane (the captivating Britney Simpson). Although he is brilliant and eloquent, He can’t tell her how he feels because of his self-consciousness over his enormous nose. He thinks that his ugliness will surely disgust Roxane. Roxane falls in love with the very handsome but dull-witted soldier Christian, (the intriguing Luis Quintero) If only he were a poet like Cyrano. The two love-sick men come up with a plan, Christian will be the face of the lover, and Cyrano the soul. Cyrano agrees to lend his words to Christian in order to win Roxane's heart.
The tale is uproariously brought to life by Director Meredith McDonough. She draws the very best from her terrific five-person ensemble, many of whom play multiple roles and have their comic timing down to the tick. It is creatively staged with lots of modern quips and a brisk pace.
George Merrick shows both his range and his comic chops as the no-talent actor named Montfleury, and the unapologetically slimy Comte de Guiche. The ubiquitous Nance Williamson is witty and spirited as both La Bret, Cyrano’s closest friend and as Duenna, Roxane’s chaperone.
Jason O’Connell, as Cyrano expertly embodies a vast array of conflicting emotions. His expressions and physical movement convey a clownish hilarity, a dazzling wit and the pain of unrequited love.
The contemporary soundtrack (Palmer Hefferan) is great fun and the splendid lighting (Paul Toben), and the eclectic costumes (Jessica Wegener Shay), add color. Scenic design is by Kristen Robinson and Props by Joshua Yocom. All stunningly realized in the Festival tent with the lovely grounds as the backdrop.
Go see this novel interpretation of this classic tale about a man’s struggle to replace vanity, pride, and ignorance with grace, humility and intelligence. It is an ironic anecdote of missed opportunities, it reminds us that, after all, beauty is only skin deep.
Add to your experience; bring a picnic and enjoy the spectacular view, pre-show.
CYRANO is in repertoire through August 30th. Also playing: Much Ado About Nothing, Cymbeline and Into The Woods.
The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, Boscobel House and Gardens, 1601 Route NY-9D