At one performance of the Aquila Theatre’s Cyrano de Bergerac (the Clark Studio), the hero’s putty super-schnoz wouldn’t stay on. So the unflappable Anthony Cochrane just pocketed it and zipped it out whenever the text called for it. Without his nose, he looked like a handsome guy who only imagined he was ugly.
Too bad this wasn’t the director’s intent. Instead, the talented Robert Richmond showers us with competing concepts and colorful flourishes that briefly dazzle but don’t add up. Start with the comically grotesque puppets he uses as the unruly audience at a stage show. Quite arresting, they presage a darker vision than ever emerges in this checkerboard of a production. Are they part of the same idea that has Roxanne dressed only in bloomers covered with bare dressmaker’s hoops? And why does Roxanne’s maid sound as if she’s from rural Alabama?
Richmond seems to be trying to avoid the sappier excesses of Rostand’s tearjerker, but cannot settle on a coherent rationale for his Cyrano. Self-mocking and gallant, the cavalier never seems more than a little distressed as he helps the inarticulate nudnick Christian woo his own beloved Roxanne. Yet we’re expected to find his years of honorable or foolish or frightened self-denial heartbreaking.
For all that, the accomplished Cochrane is wryly funny, equally confident wielding sword or wit. Lisa Carter’s Roxanne is winning as the insensitive flirt who grows tender and wise, and the boisterous, if uneven, cast draws many laughs. In the final scene, though, as autumn leaves drift down on the never-lovers’ graying heads, you wish you could feel the bittersweet pangs that should be evoked by this very pretty production. —Francine Russo
Disobeying the Foreman
Of all the directors Richard Foreman allows to put on his plays (anyone), he has only issued an informal cease and desist order to one person—Edward Einhorn. The upstart director, however, wears this dishonor as a badge of pride, making it part of the announcement that begins his audience-participatory “production” of Foreman’s Lava (Nada).
Foreman culled Lava from his notebooks, calling it a series of “staged essays” and “ironic” interpretations of poststructuralist theory. Concerned with flaws in the expressive capability of language and lamenting its function as a societal control, the original production consisted mainly of a voice-over, against which actors performed various tasks or with which they spoke in unison. Perhaps inspired by the original production’s auteur-as-demigod flavoring, Einhorn has the audience sit around a table, encounter-group style. Photocopies of the text are passed around and read, while Einhorn sits in Nada’s grimy booth and gives direction in his nasal, effete voice. “Less emotion,” he’ll order one of the nervously tittering mix of actors and nonactors randomly assembled. “Even less.” There’s no actual theater to be found here, but plenty of real discomfort. Even the hope you might discover something about your fellow audience members is dashed by Einhorn’s limp performance both as a director and in the role of “director.” At first the stakes seem quite high, but Einhorn hasn’t paced his own interference enough to ratchet up the palpable tension; he never makes the kind of unreasonable request that might cause something truly anarchic to take place. This says nothing of Einhorn’s abuse of the play, a treasure trove of dancing metaphysical ideas that he reduces to his clown, and which he facetiously calls “pretentious.” The evening tiptoes along like the first rehearsal of an experimental workshop—tentative readings of difficult passages, lots of fidgeting, and about two seconds of anything interesting. At one point, the audience-actor next to me leaned over and whispered, “I feel like one of us is going to get voted off.” —James Hannaham
Least of Eden
Imperfect Chemistry (Minetta Lane Theatre) is an imperfect new musical about genetic science. Hitting the audience over the head with allusions to the fall of man, the play begins when Dr. Elizabeth Gibbs (Amanda Watkins) and Dr. Alvin Rivers (Ken Barnett) arrive at Avalon, a laboratory complex where they can research their cares away without pressure to publish. Paradise is lost, however, when Lizzarde (Brooks Ashmanskas), the foppish administrative assistant, convinces Elizabeth to speed up her research by using program Pomegranate on the forbidden supercomputers. Before you can say “Who cares?” Lizzarde and the new arrivals (who, surprise surprise, seem to be falling in love) get booted from this lab of luxury. The evil Dr. Bubinski (John Jellison) then hires the fallen trio and exploits the honest researchers’ discovery for profit: Their wonder drug is Lox A Gane, which can turn the baldest head bountiful by altering the gene for hair loss. The melodrama reaches its climax with the discovery of a singular side effect—users turn Neanderthal!
James Racheff’s book and lyrics are as cliché and cheesy as Albert Tapper’s story and music. Lyrical highlights include the young researchers explaining science through songs with lines like “It’s all in a chromosome somewhere in your own genome,” and “You’re here with me thanks to http.” There is also a song devoted to golf.
The music mixes show-tune and rock-musical genres, and the choreography (by director John Ruocco) is reminiscent of popular moves employed in sixth-grade plays. Rob Odorisio’s pseudoscientific set is campy, yet adequate. But the real bad chemistry lies in the book and music, not in the production. Maybe the producers were in the early stages of Lox A Gene Neanderthalism when they picked this one? —Elizabeth Frankel