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Depta Nose Best

Intriguing choices in new Cyrano


After seeing the towering Frank Langella in the title role on Broadway back in 1997, I admit that I wasn't eagerly awaiting Epic Arts Repertory Theatre's production of Cyrano de Bergerac when it was first announced last summer. Edmond Rostand's tragicomedy was a flamboyant gesture of defiance against the realism and naturalism of its day, hearkening back to an era that prized fervid poetry and death-defying heroism on the stage. Now Epic Arts proposed to turn the hero's role over to a woman! How does that chime with Rostand's chivalrous reactionary spirit?

Rather well, as it turns out, with company co-founder Laura Depta donning the prosthesis and co-directing with husband Stan Peal. Yes, it's disorienting at times to see a woman swaggering and vaunting as the swashbuckling Cyrano. But Depta is so adept at bringing the fearless, uncompromising poet to life that I soon forgot the anachronism of women warriors in 17th Century costumes -- or that Cyrano's being a lesbian might pose a larger obstacle to happiness than her legendary nose.

When Christian and then Roxanne realize that it's ultimately Cyrano's soul that has won the lady, it all makes sense. Suddenly, this gender-bent Cyrano becomes powerfully pertinent. And fortuitously scheduled, since our philosophic President has only recently proven that nothing less than a Constitutional amendment can overturn the inherent rectitude of gay marriage.

Until we ascend to the spiritual plane in explicating Roxanne's true love, questions about Epic Arts' choices are likely to intrigue us. If this female Cyrano is a visionary, far in advance of her era, why do Peal and Depta strew women among the cadets who march into battle for France at the Siege of Arras? If Ms. Cyrano is supposed to be a commonplace in an enlightened world -- where lesbians are never remarked on -- why not let a woman do the role of Christian as well? Why not a threesome?

Additional freshness is supplied, strangely enough, by the script itself. Peal and Depta discarded the famous 1923 translation by Brian Hooker, opting for a new adaptation by Anthony Burgess. In contrast to Hooker's blank verse, Burgess makes a concerted effort to replicate Rostand's original rhyming couplets. So this Cyrano often has the snap and wit we associate with Richard Wilbur's devastating translations of Moliere. That counts in the heartbreaking finale when we learn that an entire scene written by Cyrano was stolen by Moliere, his rival.

Depta's derring-do is bolstered by some really innovative fight choreography from Kurt Gerard Heinlein, most of it sharply executed. Fluidity of the production is boosted by Brian Ruggaber, whose set design somehow strings together three distinct playing spaces at cozy SPAC.

James K. Flynn is strongest among the supporting players as Comte de Guiche, the treacherous aristocrat who fancies Roxanne, but there are really no weak links in the cast. I've seen dreamier looking Christians, but what Austin Herring lacks in glamor, he pays us back in wide-eyed inarticulacy.

After a two-year absence from the local scene, Lorraine Larocque flashes the brilliance that made her our Newcomer of the Year in 2000. Delicate and luminous in the familiar balcony scene, Larocque shows some rust after Christian's death, inaudible and cliched during much of the final scene. As Cyrano's trusted confidante, Julie Janorschke sometimes seems to want us thinking that Captain le Bret's admiration for Cyrano extends beyond her military and poetical prowess.

Not your grandfather's Cyrano, this Epic Arts remake. Whatever seems puzzling or askew is soon righted by Depta's bravado and brio.

With plenty of people still laid off by the Bush economy, the touring version of The Full Monty still packed a wallop at Belk Theater last week. Terrence McNally's book is more than an adaptation of the surprise British film hit of 1997. It's a transformation, infusing the story of six average Joes who dare to go bare with joy and affirmation while transporting our unemployed heroes from Sheffield to Buffalo, New York.

To be sure, a few extra shots of joy juice come from David Yazbeck's songs and lyrics, and a few more from the ability of the ensemble to come out among the audience and break down the fourth wall.

The story centers around Jerry Lukowski, the divorced father who dreams up the striptease sextet as a desperate means of keeping up his child support payments. But Jeremiah Zinger makes Jerry into a generic rock musical hero, skipping around the stage with the hackneyed cool of a self-adulating lead vocalist. He cedes the mantle of stardom to those who attempt to act and sing with individuality.

Charlotte's own Troy Scarborough stole as much spotlight as anyone from Zinger, playing over-the-hill jivemaster "Horse" Simmons and bringing down the house with his creaky striptease audition, "Big Black Man." In affecting reconciliations with their husbands -- and their "You Rule My World" duet -- Happy McPartlin and Ann Burnette Matthews also had the goods.

Joe Coots probably has the meatiest -- or fattiest -- role as Dave Bukatinsky. First, as a hopeless junkfood junkie, he sings the same "You Rule My World" to his bloated stomach. Then after saving the night watchman at the steel mill from a suicide attempt, he and Zinger sing about better ways to commit suicide in the crowd-pleasing "Big-Ass Rock." Finally, his reconciliation with McPartlin's Georgie is the most soulful of all.

"Who wants to see this dance?" he asks, justifying his dropout from the striptease. "I do!" she answers.

This is a superb musical that has yet to achieve the recognition it deserves.

Lorraine Hansberry's A Raisin in the Sun proves its resilience under the most trying circumstances in its current revival at Theatre Charlotte. Guest director Marilyn Carter can't seem to induce any chemistry among the inexperienced cast. Lena is more like a slightly resentful housemaid than a mighty matriarch, and her daughter Beneatha is more like a peevish teen than a crusading redeemer. All the family's anger and energy have been funneled into Walter Lee Younger, played by Brian Simmons with a scenery-chewing fury that stands out like a throbbing thumb amid his tepid kin. I thought things couldn't get worse until the wooden work of the bit players proved me wrong.

Most amazingly, the power of Walter Lee's anguish and Lena's faith still shine through in Hansberry's glowing oratory. So this Raisin almost does explode.

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