It’s summer in Berkeley again, and that means that the Shotgun Players are back with their 9th annual production in John Hinkle Park. It’s a double gift—almost any excuse to spend the afternoon in that lovely outdoor theater would do—but Shotgun’s plays have been consistent delights in themselves.
And it isn’t crass to take pleasure in the fact that they’re financing themselves by passing the hat when the performance is over. You get to decide for yourself what the afternoon seemed worth to you.
You can’t get a deal any better than that.
This year’s production is Edmund Rostand’s classic Cyrano de Bergerac. It’s a tale that’s become so embedded in our folklore that almost everybody knows about the courageous swordsman, brilliant wordsmith, and would-be lover with the absurdly long nose.
But the play is tricky to produce in most modern theater situations. For one thing, Rostand clung to the old tradition of very long plays indeed. For another, the uncut version has more than 50 characters. You have to admit that that’s a whole lot of play.
Shotgun has demonstrated much creativity and perhaps more than their share of drive (witness their progress up from makeshift, temporary theater venues to this year’s acquisition of the Ashby Theatre). But marshaling 50 actors into one production would be a bit much, even for them. (For this year, at least. Who can predict what these people will take on by this time next year?)
Director Joanie McBrien became so caught up with the play’s challenge to life that she pursued a number of translations, finally coming on the one by the multitalented American playwright, Charles Marowitz.
“I knew I’d found the perfect match,” she said.
The language is beautiful, but it was up to McBrien to bring the play into a version that could be presented in John Hinkle Park. She speaks of “editing and confabulating characters.”
In this production, the 50 original roles are encompassed by ten actors, four of whom, Fontana Butterfield, Erin Carter, Jared Dager and Dave Maier, all play three or four supporting roles of startling variety, several even playing both sexes.
In the title role, Clive Wesley does a great job as Cyrano, handling the long speeches about his love for Roxane with the same skill that he displays with his sword. And Gwen Larson is most persuasive as the beautiful and intelligent Roxane. All in all, it’s a strong cast. Andy Alabran, Eric Burns, Matthew Purdon and Gabe Weiss have the opportunity to focus on just one character each, and do good work.
The structure of the play as it is in this production is unusual. The second act is shorter, and has a significantly darker tone. But it’s a beautiful presentation in a beautiful setting and well worth seeing.