By Philip Pearce

IT’S INTERESTING the way that PacRep’s current season takes two central heroes of early 20th century European drama, Peter Pan and Cyrano de Bergerac, and gives them each a new look. Plus the frank theatricality of a handful of actors playing a whole lot of the characters involved in the stories of their lives.

In the June/July production of Peter and the Starcatcher twelve actors played more than 30 roles in a swashbuckling prequel to the August/July musical version of Peter Pan.

Now there’s an exciting new version of Cyrano, which tells the well-loved tale but pares nearly 50 speaking roles down to 27 to be played by a cast of nine.

When you think about it, Peter and Cyrano are cut from the same mold. Both are chock full of swaggering self-confidence, both are supernaturally brilliant swordsmen, both are sworn enemies of the social status quo. “I want,” Cyrano explains at one point, “to reduce the number of bows I have to make in a day.” Peter doesn’t want to grow up and have to make that kind of decision in the first place.

Like many another theater addict of my generation, I’ve always loved Rostand’s three hour, five-act marathon of moonlit romance, spontaneous poetry and dashing swordplay. But Michael Hollinger’s slick new translation and the fresh two-act adaptation of the text he shares with Aaron Posner make for a fast-paced and thoroughly satisfying evening in the Outdoor Forest Theater.

In a recent interview, Hollinger notes that the original script’s world of 17th century Paris isn’t exactly familiar territory to 21st century audiences. “It was important to me that the play speak to us, here and now, and therefore I made myself the litmus test of what would be accessible, immediate, funny, poignant, and so on.”

So there’s little left of Rostand’s blank verse or the sections of social comment on French society of the 1600’s. What comes across vividly is the central ironic dilemma of a man with a face so unsightly he can only use his supreme genius for poetic love talk to push his lady love into the arms of a handsome but tongue-tied rival.

Pacific Rep executive director Stephen Moorer is an active, touching and consistently funny Cyrano. He mines every vein of wit in the new script and catches most of the underlying pathos without ever slipping into the lilting Gielgud/Burton attitude and voice adopted by some Cyranos I’ve seen. His dying attack against social convention and phony officialdom is no reflective elegy, it’s a ruthless sword fight to the death.

This new version makes it easier to explore character motivations and navigate some of the finer points of 17th century French civic and military life by expanding the role of Le Bret. He’s no longer just Cyrano’s trusty military buddy; he’s a wise narrator who steps out of the action and into a spotlight to explain things directly to us ticket holders. It works admirably. Unlike Rostand’s audience but just like Shakespeare’s, we’ve reached a point where we like it when somebody pauses the story and comments on what’s going on. As always, Jeffrey T Heyer is clear and believable in the role.

The remainder of the players are busy and excellent, moving nimbly through two or three roles apiece. Jennifer Le Blanc is a beautiful, passionate Roxane, so swept up in a duet of Cyrano’s poetry and Gascon-cadet Christian de Neuvillette’s good looks that it takes her fourteen years to discover she’s been in love with the soul of one and only the body of the other.

Justin Gordon is an appealing Christian, a fresh military recruit who’s closely in touch with his feelings but clueless in expressing them. I liked his last-minute wide-eyed explosion of terror at having to woo the lovely Roxane, even coached by the eloquent Cyrano.

D Scott McQuiston is a bubbly and comically endearing Ragueneau, a pastry chef and would-be poet, who manages (in the interest of trimming down cast size) to shout protests at his wife for wrapping her pastries in the texts of his verses without her ever actually appearing on stage.

A small and energetic Andrew Mazer is convincingly tipsy as a bibulous cadet named Ligniere.  Lewis Rhames is willowy and comically inept as a plumed Parisian popinjay named De Valvert, one of a string of candidates for the hand of the fair Roxane. More purposeful and pompous is Michael Storm as another suitor, De Guiche, commander of Cyrano and Christian’s Gascon battalion. The versatile and surprising Garland Thompson moves effortlessly through five different roles, most notably in drag as Roxane’s busybody and sweet-toothed duenna and then in Rosary and wimple as the chatty, broom-wielding Sister Marthe.

Kenneth Kelleher’s direction manages, again and again, to make the nine-member cast look and act like a big crowd. My favorite segment of Act 1 is a sequence that doesn’t even happen in the old Rostand version. Cyrano, high and happy at some fond attention from his beloved Roxane, learns that a hundred sword-wielding thugs are planning a midnight ambush at the Porte de Nesle. He vows to bare his sword and carve them up, single handedly, one by one. Rostand’s script simply reports his success after the fact. Kelleher, Moorer and fight director Justin Gordon show it happening in a shadowy ballet of flashing swordplay which proves that perfectly timed farce can be both hilarious and beautiful.

I loved the show, but I had minor problems with the set design. The big outdoor theater stage allows for a lot of depth and width. But is the backstage area so limited that ingredients of Patrick McEvoy’s settings need to be stored in plain view instead of waiting in the wings to be wheeled on when required? The big quarter moon awaited its appearance in the balcony/garden scene from a position way upstage. And an unchanging background of blue-green wooden fretwork units gave a sense of clutter.

That said, it’s a must see, but take plenty of coats and blankets. It continues through October 15th.



The Last Lion and the Eagle

By Philip Pearce

WINSTON CHURCHILL is the latest subject in Howard Burnham’s exciting series of on-line Zoom biographies under the auspices of Monterey County Theatre Alliance.

It’s no surprise that his portrait of the great man in The Last Lion and the Eagle is compelling and the slide show vivid in its panorama of the key personalities, places and events in the life of one of the most famous non-Americans in recent American history.

With its strong emphasis on Churchill’s American mother and American wife, plus his close links with figures like the Roosevelts, Harry Hopkins and ambassadors Kennedy and Wynant, it was a popular choice. Several members of the audience voted for it enthusiastically in an informal interactive chat with Howard after his performance as Edward Lear in His Shoes Were Far Too Tight. I guess I need to check in as a member of the loyal opposition when I say I liked Last Lion and Eagle but I liked Shoes and In a Dream Within a Dream better.

Why? I think because I had less advance knowledge of either Lewis Carroll or Edward Lear than I did of Winston Churchill. The two humorists were names on the covers of books I knew well but whose authors’ lives were full of quirky nooks and crannies I had never poked into. The two plays probed and explored previously undiscovered territory and I like it when theater does that. Lion and Eagle offers an affectionate tribute to a world-famous man, not so much to assess as to extol him. That’s fine. It’s what Shakespeare does for Henry V. But having lived through a lot of the 20th century and read a fair bit of its history, I found myself last Saturday taking a pleasantly nostalgic but over-familiar stroll along a well-traveled stretch of American history.


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FROM ST IGNATIUS PARISH a live violin recital by Patrick Galvin. MONTEREY JAZZ VIRTUAL FESTIVAL this weekend features Herbie Hancock, Diana Krall, Dianne Reeves, the Kenny Barron Trio. MONTEREY COUNTY THEATRE ALLIANCE sponsors an online reading of William Randolph Hearst: A Staged Reading in Zoom by Carol Marquart. SANTA CRUZ BAROQUE FESTIVAL continues online with the Virtu Ensemble featuring soprano Angelique Zuluaga. FOR DETAILS AND LINKS, CLICK HERE


MONTEREY SYMPHONY musicians Eugenie Wie and Adelle-Akiko Kearns played duets on Friday afternoon. Charmers by Scott Joplin, Mozart, Carlos Gardel and Jacob Gade framed the program’s biggest (20 minutes) item, Eight Duets by the early 20th century Russian composer Reinhold Glière. This online event will remain via Vimeo on the Monterey Symphony Website. Click HERE


WHEN THERE ARE NINE by Kristin Kuster and Megan Levad was premiered during the 2019 season, with Jamie Barton, Roomful of Teeth and the Cabrillo Festival Orchestra. To watch and hear it, click HERE


SCOTT YOO’S outstanding programs for Great Performances have just begun a new series, this one on composers of the Classical Era, from Haydn to Beethoven. THE ‘HAYDN’ EPISODE aired on PBS last week. To see it, click HERE


CHAMBER MUSIC MONTEREY BAY’S 2020-21 season is set to start its online streaming on October 10 with the Miró Quartet playing Kevin Puts’ HOME and Beethoven’s Quartet in E-flat, Op 127. Click HERE


SINCE APRIL 18 this year, the Carmel Music Society has published short pieces and movements every Saturday by many of the artists it has hosted over the years. You can access them all on the CMS website HERE


FEATURING Fazil Say’s Never Give Up cello concerto. (Click on the CC button for English subtitles.)



ALEX ROSS, writing in The New Yorker, says “The field must acknowledge a history of systemic racism while also giving new weight to Black composers, musicians, and listeners.” Click HERE


FOR OVER A THOUSAND YEARS, Tibetan Buddhist psychology has taught techniques for overcoming negative, afflictive emotions, such as anger, greed, jealousy, sloth and ignorance. In the film The Last Dalai Lama? his Holiness, Tenzin Gyatso, explains that Tibetan Buddhism is both a religion and a “science of the mind”; he also shares his crystallized understanding of the nature of mind, and its part in the creation and alleviation of all of our suffering. Believing that this precious wisdom belongs to the world, twenty years ago the Dalai Lama challenged a select group of world-renowned Neuroscientists and Mind/Brain researchers to look into the workings of the mind, and to prove scientifically that Tibetan Buddhist technologies for overcoming afflictive emotions are skills that can be learned by anyone. As he now turns 82, he faces questions about aging and death, and whether he will reincarnate as the Dalai Lama, or if he will be the last of the lineage that has existed since the 14th century.

Mickey Lemle’s film was released in 2016 and became available then on DVD. For some reason, the soundtrack CD has only just been issued. In it, Tibetan folk music master Tenzin Choegyal supplies the vocals (singing and chanting), folk instruments (lingbu, dranyen) and percussion. Of the 13 mostly short movements, Tenzin’s much-loved Heart Strings also includes a chorus of some 150 Tibetan children from their school in Dharamsala, India. Tenzin’s music is mixed with that of Philip Glass in various ways, while the sections strictly by Glass are instantly recognized for the composer’s repetitious patterns of scales, arpeggios and syncopated polyrhythms. (He and Michael Riesman play piano.) The movement titled Snow Lion is heard next to last as arranged for the new-music-specializing Scorchio String Quartet with Tenzin singing the haunting song and plucking the dranyen. The final track, lasting 15 minutes, is an organ improvisation that, lacking the benefit of actually seeing the film, is a little hard to contextualize. Glass wrote it in 1979 to ‘kill time’ waiting for Dalai Lama to show up for his first visit to New York. SM


PHILIP PEARCE attended Howard Burnham’s Zoom performance of The Last Lion and the Eagle: Winston Churchill at Hyde Park. Click HERE


KELLI O’HARA has the right stuff for Opry and Opera


Scott MacClelland, editor; Rebecca CR Brooks, associate editor