It’s one of those roles that is so massive and large that it holds a lot of different actors,” says Derrick Lee Weeden, an actor himself. He’s talking about Cyrano de Bergerac, the famous lover and fighter with the long nose who pines for the beautiful Roxane. Despite his male bravery, he’s too self-conscious to declare his love. The classic French comedy opened last Sunday at PCPA in its Solvang theater and it runs through September 1.
“It’s like Hamlet,” he continues. “You have all these actors bringing something to it over the years.” But unlike Hamlet, it’s a role that Mr. Weeden hadn’t thought about playing until Roger DeLaurier offered it to him. Mr. Weeden sought his friends’ opinions on the matter and they all insisted on it, saying it was perfect for the actor who’s played Coriolanus, Othello, and other great classic roles. Now he’s taking on a character who many associate in its modern day remake with Steve Martin, or onstage with Derek Jacobi, Patrick Page, or Mark Harlick, and he hopes to find his place “in that river of de Bergerac as well.”
For director DeLaurier, this performance marks the 20-year anniversary since PCPA mounted a production. Mr. DeLaurier directed that one too, starring John Daly. “Yes, I’ve been here that long!” he admits.
“It felt like the right season to do it,” Mr. DeLaurier says. “Derrick is a great classical actor. He’s so good with language and is a commanding presence. You need all these things for Cyrano. He’s dashing and poetic; he’s a duelist; so you have to have the right actor.”
Of that first production, Mr. DeLaurier says, “We got the poetic soul of Cyrano, but I don’t think we got the warrior or the edges of madness seen in the character.”
So now, Mr. DeLaurier has a second chance to explore more. Both director and actor attended grad school in Texas, and worked separately at a Shakespeare festival, but this is the first time they’ve worked together professionally.
The original 1897 French play by Edmond Rostand, based very loosely on the real character who lived some 200 years beforehand, has been translated several times, but Mr. DeLaurier is using a very modern translation by Ranjit Bolt, which premiered at the Bristol Old Vic in 2007.
“A lot of the earlier translations are in English, but they try to rhythmically do what the French do,” says Mr. DeLaurier. “Bolt went ahead and made it English. It still rhymes, and it’s still poetic, but just not in a French way.”
“It’s lyricism,” says Mr. Weeden. “And rhymed verse. You’d have to look to Shakespeare like Richard II and Romeo and Juliet for that kind of heavy verse. But as far as passion, intelligence, heart and spirit, you could compare this play to Shakespeare’s tragedies. It’s like King Lear or Othello.”
Yes, there is a sort of tragedy at the end of the play, but there’s also resolution of a sort. Cara Ricketts plays Roxane; Tobias Shaw plays Cyrano’s friend, Christian; and Gregory Linington plays his enemy, Comte de Guiche.
For Mr. Weeden, he says the joy of this character (and others) is about sharing. “It’s not about standing center stage and performing lines. It’s about looking into other people’s eyes and you get to play.”
Cyrano de Bergerac
When: 8 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, through September 1
Where: Solvang Festival Theater, 420 Second St., Solvang
Information: 922-8313 or www.pcpa.org