Six years ago, Edmond Rostand's 19th-century play Cyrano de Bergerac (itself set in 1640) was given a fresh English translation by Michael Hollinger. The contemporary playwright was looking to remedy what he saw as the shortcomings of the two "biggies" — namely, the "prosaic" quality of Brian Hooker's 1923 translation and the "over-embellished" quality of Anthony Burgess' poetic translation from 1970. Hollinger said he wanted the language to be "immediate, rhythmic and lively," the jokes to resonate with modern audiences, and the verse to be more reminiscent of slam poetry.
The nose, of course — Cyrano's tragicomic impediment to life and love — would remain untouched.
Along with his new translation, now shortened to simply Cyrano, Hollinger adapted the play for smaller troupes and stages. He trimmed scenes, condensed action and cut the size of the cast by more than two-thirds, making it more suitable for venues like Stage Left, which is featuring the play as its 2017-18 season opener.
"Instead of having a cast of, like, 30 to 50 people, it's reduced down to nine," says Cyrano director Chris Wooley. "Each person is playing multiple roles, so it's very much an ensemble-type show. The same storyline goes through — just with minor tweaks to make it work with nine actors."
One of those tweaks, though not exactly minor, is the inclusion of the hundred-man sword fight that otherwise "happens offstage during intermission," Wooley says. "In this one, you actually get to see a cool fight happen" despite the reduced cast.
"Each actor gets to die several times," he says, laughing.
Up to this point, Wooley has primarily been involved with the Spokane Civic Theatre, directing productions such as Becky's New Car and Catfish Moon. Cyrano is his first venture with Stage Left.
"I hadn't worked with Stage Left before, and I wanted to," says Wooley. "I was looking at the show lineup that they had, and I absolutely love heroic stories, which Cyrano is. We have adventure, you've got some romance, cool storytelling, and of course sword fights are a huge plus, too."
There also was a family connection. Wooley's mother, Tia, who has extensive experience in local theater, became the managing director at Stage Left last year.
"If anything, we're probably able to get more done, because I've got a nice working relationship with her," he says. "And we know a lot of the same people, which can help to pull in favors to up the production value."
A few of those favors are evident in the costumes and props. The swords are on loan from Eastern Washington University, for example, and the period attire was sourced from the Civic's massive wardrobe.
It was also through Wooley's work with the Civic that he met Dalin Tipton, who was called in at the 11th hour to assume the leading role when Jeremy Lindholm bowed out of the production. Lindholm, who appeared at Stage Left last year in Wittenberg and had a bit part in the latest season of Twin Peaks, was arrested on assault and attempted murder charges the day after quitting Cyrano, due to what Wooley describes as "family issues."
"The replacement actor is amazing. He's crazy, crazy good," says Wooley, adding that Tipton was "off book" (no longer needing the script to rehearse) and comfortable with the fight choreography within a matter of days. "He pulls in such dedication and professionalism that it's just remarkable — and inspiring to the rest of the cast."
Tipton will star in this production of Cyrano alongside Lindsay Teter as Roxane and Blake King-Krueger as Christian.
As for that other star, the nose? It's a "seamless" latex prosthesis that will be applied to Tipton with the help of costumer and makeup artist Tresa Black.
"It looks pretty funny, but kind of cool too," says Wooley. "It just adds a couple of extra inches. It does look authentic."
That sense of authenticity can be important, because Cyrano's nose is meant to symbolize the private hang-ups and perceived inadequacies that can inhibit us.
"He's an expert poet, an amazing fighter. Yet he's afraid that because he has a disfigured nose that he's going to be completely unlovable," says Wooley. "Having a chance to reflect on yourself — what am I good at and what's holding me back? It's a cool theme to play with and think about." ♦
Cyrano • Sept. 8-24 • Thu-Sat, 7:30 pm; Sun, 2 pm • $20 • Stage Left Theater • 108 W. Third • spokanestageleft.org • 838-9727