Ahead by a Nose

An admirable antihero leads Rostand's classic romance.

As the eponymous possessor of "that fatal cartilage" in Seattle Shakespeare Company's production of Cyrano de Bergerac, Scott Coopwood struts with simmering fury, leading with his nose at every angry step. Coopwood's Cyrano—self-besieged by withering hate for his own "ugliness"—is a classic antihero, a darkly complex man given equally to flights of grandiosity and depths of crippling despair. For Cyrano, words and actions are inseparable; when he says, "I've decided simply to be admirable in all things," we understand this as a fait accompli, a comic refutation of Hamlet's querulous "To be or not to be." Coopwood simply soars with the language of Sean Patrick Taylor's fluid, poetic translation; he fills the role with real weight and feeling, bringing to Cyrano's self-sacrifice a kind of visceral, blood-and-bone grittiness, a humanism that grounds the character's valor in mortality.

Fortunately, Coopwood's performance is strong enough to carry some weaknesses in director Stephanie Shine's production. The biggest problem: The overly large cast is spread too thin in too short a time, and key characters aren't properly developed—most glaring in the case of Cyrano's raison d'être, the lovely Roxanne (Emily Grogan), who comes across merely as an object of desire. At times, Grogan seems rather overwhelmed by the force of Coopwood's performance. Consequently, her gaze seems less adoring than vacant. She hardly seems worthy of such self-sacrificing love, which creates a sort of disconnect in terms of motivation. Also, the part of Cyrano's mouthpiece, the inarticulate Christian (Nathan Smith), is undervalued. He seems an afterthought until his death scene.

Despite these glitches—which make a strong argument for a chamber production— SSC's staging is entertaining and, at times, moving. Shine does a nice job balancing the play's comic and tragic elements, and Coopwood's performance packs a punch. If not admirable in all things, this Cyrano is good enough.


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