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Wednesday, February 19,2014

Curatain Call: On the nose

Seasoned actor shines in MSU’s ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’

by MARY CUSACK
Those who know the story of Cyrano de Bergerac based on Steve Martin’s version in the 1986 comedy “Roxanne” may be dismayed when watching the original play. As seen in Michigan State University’s Department of Theatre’s production, “Cyrano de Bergerac” is not a Hollywood romance, but a tragic tale of loves lost. Yes, plural loves.

The setting is old and foreign, but the themes are contemporary and familiar. Cyrano de Bergerac (Mark Colson) has a big nose. Snoot, snout, sneezer, snuffer — he’s heard it all. To compensate for his deformity and accompanying self-esteem issues, he has developed mad skills as a soldier and poet. He carries a torch for the lovely Roxanne (Sarah Goeke), but when she professes her love for one of Cyrano’s fellow soldiers, he employs his way with words to help the young Christian (Eric Miller) woo Roxanne.

Matthew Imhoff’s set is a gorgeous display of deteriorating decadence. The downside of the design is that the grand wooden staircase, frequently mounted by multiple characters, is hollow and creaky. The cacophony created by characters clomping up and down the stairs often drowns out the dialogue of the student actors.

This is not an issue for Colson, a seasoned actor and MSU assistant professor of media acting, who has mastery of projection and enunciation. He delivers every line crisply and clearly, with a voice that possesses a unique resonance seemingly created for classical literature.

Casting faculty to perform with students in a college production adds value to the learning experience. Students get to see their teacher walk the walk and talk the talk. It raises the bar without overwhelming them with feelings of inadequacy. This strategy worked well for MSU’s Department of Theatre when Christina Traister took the role of Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” in 2011. That production was all-around outstanding; Colson’s influence is harder to measure.

“Cyrano” requires a large cast, and there is a diversity of skill level here. Because Colson’s performance is flawless, the gap of quality is more obvious. The lesser experienced actors hurry their dialogue or fail to project well, which makes Colson’s riveting performance stick out more than his prosthetic nose.

Nonetheless, director Edward Daranyi made the right choice in casting Colson in the lead. The role of Cyrano is challenging and, if done by an amateur, would make an already long play absolutely excruciating. By contemporary standards, the script is ponderous, clocking in at slightly more than three hours. While there is a lot of truly delicious language to enjoy, most scenes simply slog on longer than that iconic schnoz.

“Cyrano de Bergerac”

Michigan State University 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 19 & Thursday, Feb. 20; 8 p.m.

Friday, Feb. 21; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 22; 2 p.m.

Sunday, Feb. 23 $15/$13 seniors and faculty/$10 students/$8 children Fairchild Theatre, 542 Auditorium Road, MSU campus, East Lansing (800) WHARTON, whartoncenter.com


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